J-E-T-S is the first full-length offering from maverick producers Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar, two artists who have made careers out of exploring the more leftfield aspects of hip-hop, techno, and house. On paper, a collaboration between the pair, expanded over the course of an album, should be a triumph with each encouraging the other to up their game. However, like all promising pairings, there is always a slight feeling of trepidation when it comes to settling down to listen to the fruits of their labor. After all, there is just as big a possibility of it all falling flat and not living up to expectations. The finished album could just as easily be the sound of these two artists attempting to crowbar in their own sonic ideas or, even more unforgivably, blunting each other’s more experiential leanings through that paralyzing musical position – compromise.
Fortunately, neither of those things has happened on their debut album, Zoospa. It’s an album that sees two producers finding plenty of shared musical ground, laying charges and then detonating them. Sounds, beats, and rhythms are forced together and then wrenched apart as the pair form songs from the jagged, avant-garde elements that many other producers would discard.
The deceptively tranquil, “Fauna Sauna”, offers few signs of what’s to follow as twinkling notes and swaying, ambient synths flow through the mix. However, the first sure sign that we are in for a memorable sonic trip comes with “Potions” featuring the genre-bending genius of DAWN.
“Potions” opens with a thick, chunky beat with Edgar and Machinedrum adding those alt-pop infused R&B textures and percussion that lies just left of center, something that made DAWN’s Renegade Heart album such a triumph. DAWN sounds as if she’s having a ball, spinning off the web of sonics and launching an effortless assault on the dancefloor. The more laid back, “Firefly” adds an ’80s neon veneer to a contemporary R&B beat. However, that barely does the track justice as they bend, stretch, and warp the expansive soundscape to see how low and high they can force it, seemingly at the same time.
“Look Out” is a glitchy alt-hip-hop anthem in waiting with late-night, trap beats and gleaming synths fed through the digital mangle as LA rapper, singer and producer, Kingjet sends sparks through syllables on an electrifying turn on the mic. From the urban sprawl, “Lotus HD”, walks the listener through a lush rainforest with the sound of birds chirping against a backdrop of rustling synths and gentle showers of water.
“Play” finds Mykki Blanco adding his dense rhymes as explosive beats detonate all around him. “Real Truth” is the album’s undoubted high water mark. Australian singer-songwriter rapper Tkay Maidza brings her A game, spitting out rhymes with laser-guided precision. As a result, she draws the most from the producers, encouraging them to pull off their most restless and inventive backing yet, if anything just to keep up with her. It’s the point where every hope and expectation about the pairing of Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar’s is realized in spectacular fashion.
“Ocean PPL” ties experimental techno to an R&B groove as British artist Rochelle Jordan lays her soft, warming vocals over the top like a comfort blanket. From there, things get wonderfully weird. “Hyper Hibernate” comes across like the soundtrack to an art-house sci-fi movie with automated vocal samples, swelling synths, and urgent percussion. It shows two artists locking into each other’s wavelengths perfectly.
“Q Natural” can barely contain all the ideas pulsing through it. From the bouncing beats to the malfunctioning rhythms and IDM drops, the influence of IDM masters Autechre and Aphex Twin looms large but doesn’t detract from the thrill of two production radicals tearing at the sonic fabric of their sound and seeing what happens. Opening with urgent synths and subterranean beats “Team Effort” is a gripping alt-hip-hop instrumental with each component caught in a whirlwind of sound with no idea where it may lead.
Closer, “Water and Stone” softens the harder edges but still packs a punch. With plenty of sonic jabs and percussive uppercuts, it rests on keyboard figures that pull the listener in before the fidgety beats push them away again. It’s a fittingly bustling and kinetic ending to an album that is overflowing with ideas.
The fact that the production duo pulls off a relatively cohesive album considering the number of guest artists is remarkable. Relative in the sense that this is still an album full of risks and unexpected detours. Throughout the pair continually take the road less traveled, yet somehow manage to both steer and navigate at the same time. The result is, at times, a stunningly inventive album that, thankfully, delivers on its promises.