Given the intense pleasures of the last Machinedrum LP A View of U, it’s with great joy that Travis Stewart returns so soon for six more tracks. There is nothing that explicitly states this is a musical continuation, of course, but Machinedrum has been conscious over the past roughly 20 years to give each project its own aesthetic shape, making the deliberate mirroring of the gold-and-pearlescent figures against a blue color gradient backdrop pinched from last year’s impeccable record a bit of a clear giveaway. Thankfully, it was a space that seemed open and full of ideas unrealized due to its creative fertility, so this new set of six tracks feels more like a newly discovered bright blossom than a tired retread.
What this means for listeners unfamiliar with the last record is that we get more waves of futuristic IDM, breakbeat and footwork mixed with the earlier heavily shifted techno of the ’90s. Most of these tracks have vocals, spanning rapper Deniro Farrar to indie musician Jorge Elbrecht (who has a killer black metal record under his belt under the name Coral Cross by the way), with two being instrumental cuts. The color palette here, despite the differing set of ingredients tossed into the pot, doesn’t fall far from from the contemporary set of records by Oneohtrix Point Never in the post-Garden of Delete era. Both emerged from the dissociative haze of vaporwave and its attendant experimentalist subgenres to pluck fruit from the branches of electronica’s long and storied history, actualizing the previously hauntological impulse of their ghastly and at times morose music to instead force into reality a bright and colorful future. This gives a sense of heft and sincerity to the futurism invoked on this record, from the biomechanical fig-lute of the cover to the bright biosynthetic sounds. The haze and haunt of Room(s) now feels fully dissipated, those oppressive atmospheres replaced with bounding and boundless hope. It’s a great feeling, one well-earned by the creative riches this EP sits against within Machinedrum’s body of work.
A big component that makes it work so keenly is the bounce and pulse of hip-hop. This is a flavor that had always been present in muted form across his body of work but had until 2019’s incredible ZOOSPA arrived via the mutated form of trip-hop and all the depressive, downcast instrumental permutations like early grime and UK dubstep that emerged in its wake. The breakthrough a-ha! moment of ZOOSPA, a wickedly underrated that made it onto my 2019 Best Of ballot, remains intact here, transforming the 80s synthgloss retrofuturism we’ve seen on records by Thundercat and Flying Lotus as well as an emergent flavor across contemporary hip-hop into a now rabidly future-oriented sound. There is a passion to Machinedrum’s use of hip-hop, a sincere love that bleeds through the speakers. He doesn’t, as some experimental producers might, view himself above it nor is there an ironic remove from the sounds. He places them on the exact same tier as the wildest fringes of academic experimentalists of electronics past and that sincere love makes itself known in how he utilizes the textures and microrhythms and rubs of hip-hop. This is no music school white funk, where the syncopations and rhythmic displacements are clearly mathed out rather than felt; the language of Psyconia is second nature to Machinedrum, flattening the distance between the eruption of these bright splashes of color and chrome and the compositional phase.
Psyconia doesn’t displace either his last two records of the immaculate Room(s) from their position near the top of his body of work but thankfully it also clearly doesn’t intend to. Psyconia instead is a bright juice-filled pleasure, like biting into a ripe plum, red and purple streaming down your lips and chin to bright grass below. It’s a pleasure and one that provides an accessible entry point to the experimental artful colorful depths of Machinedrum’s work. That’s enough for a great EP.
Label: Ninja Tune
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.