Machinedrum’s early releases on Merck records, including Now You Know and Half the Battle, represented a shift in hip hop production that had been under the surface for much of the late ‘90s. Incorporating elements of electronic music with the sensibilities of hip hop sampling. While retaining his own signature aesthetic, his more recent releases, both solo and as a part of Sepalcure have moved away from hip hop and drawn on sounds contemporary to the release, whether dubstep, juke or minimal.

Vapor City, his first album on Ninja Tune, develops the style evident in last year’s footwork and jungle DJ mix, Sunshine Mix. While echoing the slower, not quite jungle, not quite 2-step of the mid-90s era, Vapor City finds parallels in the work of Mark Pritchard and Exit Records’ artists including Stray. Though, as with his previous releases, this album is distinctly Machinedrum from the sound of the pads to the development of ambience through subtle effects work. Vapor City is a concept album centred on recurring dreams based in a city composed from fragments of memory and imagination.

Highlights on the release include the opening track “Gunshotta” which features a heavy, understated bass line, matched with a shuffling drum break and thoughtfully arranged atmospherics, bleeps and vocals. “Don’t 1 2 Lose U” builds around a hypnotic stab loop and haunting vocal that is destabilizing enough that the track succeeds in transporting listeners to the foggy laneways of Vapor City. “Eyesdontlie” continues building a similar hypnotic and haunting quality, but switches between rigid breaks and more rhythmically challenging moments that translate with equal presence on headphones or in the club.

Vapor City should find wide appeal and bridge the DJ and home listening communities. More than that, the record is a rare moment in which a concept album is comprised of tunes that work as a whole and hold up on their own.

By: Garth Sheridan

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