- Travis Stewart is far from a fresh face, a veteran of New York's electronic scene with over a decade of experience and at least six albums of rather hard-edged IDM and harshly abstracted hip-hop to his name, yet his debut for Planet Mu can't help but feel like somewhat of a rebirth. Room(s) is a stunning statement of purpose: Stewart takes the flatlined jackhammer of footwork and loads it on the back of jungle's freewheeling adrenaline flights, and when that fidgety, energy-overload style meets with Travis' sugary-sweet samples and candy-coated melodies, the product feels incomparably giddy.
"Sacred Frequency," for instance, is a blindingly vivid track that mixes day-glo hysterics and unforgivingly frenetic rhythms into a framework that sounds like it's daintily tip-toeing even at its most slamming. "Frequency" takes the elegant melodies of Stewart's recent work with Sepalcure and bunches them up into compressed packets of sound, coiled arpeggios and orchestral flashpoints unwinding at ridiculous speeds. It's the imperative sound on Room(s), but it's one with such depth and surprising room for variation that this kaleidoscopic feeling extends itself to the album's breadth, with each track running off on its own tangent, like the rushing piano house of "Come1," the cyclone dervish of hand percussion on "Youniverse" or the DJ Spinn-esque vocal gymnastics of "GBYE."
Even through Room(s) trades in complex and elaborate percussive science, it's a pop album at heart. Instead of the usual melange of chopped samples, Stewart delivers catchphrases and choruses pleasantly autotuned in a way that recalls modern West African pop music in its bubbly effervescence. It's a formula with countless applications; on "U Don't Survive" Stewart creates a tense track driven by a catchy vocal hook, half dancehall and half highlife, and on "Lay Me Down" he fashions a silky and tender ballad out of vocal moans, flattening out those same soft landings into swathes of R&B-worthy drama.
While, in a sense, Room(s) is by definition an amalgamation of most of the trends and ideas floating around in the electronic music sphere at the moment, it sounds like nothing else, and its execution is so cutthroat and streamlined that it's nearly flawless. Even the sequencing is perfect, gradually building speed until coming back down with centrepiece "Come1," gently fluctuating and coming to a close with the dissolute lullaby "Where Did We Go Wrong," where uncertain, worried vocals travel through a void—the one section of the album brave enough to bear and even feel out empty space. It's the sound of Stewart finally releasing his grip on his tightly-controlled masterpiece and seeing where the pieces end up. They float majestically into the horizon, ending the album on a suitably dramatic—but not maudlin—note. Because this guy doesn't do maudlin—that would be a misstep, and those don't exist on Room(s).
01. She Died There
02. Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real
03. Sacred Frequency
04. U Don't Survive
08. The Statue
09. Lay Me Down
11. Where Did We Go Wrong?