Music has always explored high concepts such as love, loss, power and politics. Travis Stewart, who releases under the moniker Machinedrum, did just that on his accomplished 2013 LP 'Vapor City' (Clash review). That album was a dark, sprawling epic that detailed each of the eponymous cities 10 districts. It was an out-and-out concept album.
'Human Energy' is by no means a concept album, although there are common themes that run throughout it: the joy of falling in love, of enjoying the day-to-day. Taking a sharp left turn away from the complexity of his previous projects Stewart appears to have found himself in a brighter world, one filled with less dread and more bliss. This would make sense; a move to California and his recent marriage give context to this shift in tone.
Whilst 'Vapor City' explored jungle and footwork, bending both forms to their limit, 'Human Energy' borrows from EDM and trap, lashed together by Stewart’s idiosyncratic style of juke and footwork. What distinguishes 'Human Energy' from its predecessors is that the albums central motif is not a concept, but a feeling. 'Human Energy' is an album about pure, unbridled joy. Listening to it is a distinctly positive experience.
'Human Energy' goes by in flash as high tempos dominate. Each track hurtles on at breakneck speed. This causes some pacing issues — not once is the listener given a second to consider what they have just heard. The listener is left breathless and the album’s ambient interlude ‘Surfed Out’ is left sounding a little out of place. However, it would be unfair to judge the album solely on such criteria. Subtlety and tonal diversity are clearly not the goals Stewart is aiming for here. Instead we get crisp percussion, solid melodies and wonderfully treated vocal features (see 'Angel Speak' ft. MeLo-X).
Although 'Human Energy' doesn’t quite measure up to either 'Vapor City' or 'Room(s)', it shouldn’t have to. It is an album produced on its own terms, that should be considered on its own terms. Judged as such, 'Human Energy' is a successful document of an artist enjoying his life, his work and — more generally — his own company.
Words: Alex Green
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