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Machinedrum: Human Energy (take one)

Machinedrum is one of the finer talents in modern electronic music, but on his latest album, he’s catering to the wrong crowd.


Human Energy

Label: Ninja Tune
US Release Date: 2016-09-30

Unless you are king bro, you’re likely to have mixed feelings about the “drop”, the release of tension that is so expected in every electronic-leaning banger but, more often than not, feels like a cliché. Lots of this decade’s best songs (think Usher’s ‘Climax’ or SOPHIE’s ‘Bipp’) have stood out because they showed restraint when they could have just taken the easy road, but come on! We’re all hedonists at heart! Sometimes we just want that “drop” to crush us like a goddamn locomotive!

Anyone who is familiar with Machinedrum’s work, whether it be with Sepalcure or under his own name, wouldn’t expect him to be the provider of such cheap thrills. Nevertheless, Human Energy is oddly open about its agenda. This is “a career defining album, one which will take him from the best-kept-secret...to the breakout star of the US music scene.” So while opening track ‘Lapis’ builds up to something that never quite materializes, the majority of Human Energy’s 15 tracks are formulaic, delivering spurts of energy that rapidly pop the corks and spray the sonic champagne. While almost every song here is masterfully produced with every build-up and comedown standing impressively strong, the trick gets old almost immediately. As conventional bangers, these songs can be admirable, but when stretched out to such lengths, the lack of creativity is painfully apparent.

Thankfully, Human Energy’s defining tendency to drag as the songs keep coming only gets revealed in the grand scheme of things. What this means is that at times, the concision and vigor in each colorful headrush can be quite impressive. Much of value lies in the drops and, more specifically, Machinedrum’s capacity to cram each one with a jittery zest, like on “Tell U” where the climax cuts out and a compact vocal sample hovers above it or “Do It 4 U” where DΔwn’s vocals are arpeggiated and scattered into a gushing spectrum. “Dos Puertas”, with its manipulated melody and buried hype-man rhythms, is a sophisticated answer to your stereotypical trap banger. Tracks like these are solid in the exact same way, but they are solid nevertheless. After all, an artist who has made such high quality club music need not have more on his agenda than the provocation of movement.

However, the fact that this formula gets tiring in an album context is amplified by the various notable dips in quality. Many of the driving synth-lines have identical effects, but some feel flimsy. “White Crown” places too much stock in its sputtering, generic trap percussion, and before the drop in “Angel Speak”, Machinedrum has the baffling idea to incorporate a sample that goes “let the trumpets hit!” It’s like he is falling on his knees in front of the God of clichéd EDM dancefloors and begging for approval.

Interestingly enough, the songs that dodge the climax don’t fare much better. Tracks that show up towards the tail end of the record- “Ocean of Thought”, “Etheric Body Temple”, “Opalescent”- are so frigid and glossy that they might as well not even exist. However, it’s the songs that try and incorporate a gimmick that serve as the actual low points, like “Spectrum Sequence” with its Kraftwerkian robot voice listing off various colors or “Celestial Levels”, which has lyrics so overblown and meaningless (“cross country to the ozone/free flyin’ to the night sky”) that they could have been lifted from a Kygo song.

All in all, it’s a shame that an artist responsible for some of the most essential efforts in UK garage has now become such a seamless blend of uninspired and corny. I don’t doubt that Machinedrum is one of the finer talents in modern electronic music; he’s just catering to the wrong crowd.


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