- Vapor City Archive concludes a year-long audio-visual project structured around Travis Stewart's exploration of an imaginary city. But don't worry if that concept has passed you by. Subscribers to the Vapor City Citizenship Programme may be able to map Vapor City Archives within that larger work, but for newbies, any Machinedrum album is intriguing on its own musical merits.
There's always a lot going on in Machinedrum's music, and Vapor City Archives is no exception. From "Boxoff," a seasick swirl of surging bass that never quite breaks out into a jungle track, to "Tried & True," which echoes the wide-eyed qualities of synth pioneers like Tangerine Dream, Stewart consistently subverts the labels—bass music, footwork, electronica—that you might use to describe his music.
Instead, he creates dense vignettes that, at their best, resonate before you can deconstruct them. "Hard 2 Be," a bit of footwork with a vintage soul vibe, and the breathless "Endless <3" are cases in point. The longer you mull it over, the stranger "B Patient" seems. Its chopped up vocals recall both the chipmunk tics of early UK hardcore and Oneohtrix Point Never's hallucinatory micro-loops. But the first thing that strikes you is that it sounds gorgeously heartbroken.
Elsewhere, though, cracks begin to show in Stewart's restless creative quest. "Safed" and the quirkily irritating "More Than Friends," which weld folk guitars onto footwork and drum & bass respectively, both drift by as cute ideas in need of a hook. Conversely, the album's most orthodox vocal track, "Only 1 Way 2 Know," is also its weakest. Clearly, Stewart's future does not lie in crossover R&B—he should drill down into his musical imagination to open up ever weirder, deeper seams.
03. Hard 2 Be
04. Only 1 Way 2 Know
05. Vizion (Centered)
06. B Patient
07. More Than Friends
08. Tried & True
09. 2 B Luvd
10. Endless <3