Monday, 20 February 2012
Review: Machinedrum - Room(s)
I had a day out in London recently, and managed to find time to pop my head into the trendiest of record stores - Rough Trade. I couldn't browse as much as I'd liked, because there was a live gig in progress at one end of the building, but I still managed to look over the electronica section. Despite its reputation, I was slightly disappointed to find Rough Trade doesn't really carry a wider selection than other trendy but slightly more provincial record stores I've been in - Manchester's excellent Piccadilly Records is just as good, for example. No matter how trendy, these places just cannot hope to match up to what the Internet has on offer. Physical record stores really are obsolete.
Still, while I was there I did manage to pick up a couple of suitably trendy items, one of which was the much-hyped Room(s) by Machinedrum. This album has been widely touted as one of the highlights of the post-step scene in 2011, so naturally a lot of shuffly pseudo-garage rhythms, bright videogame synths and fragmented vocal stabs are on offer. I didn't realise until after buying this that the guy behind Machinedrum is also one half of Sepalcure, whose album I reviewed a month or two back. I said of Sepalcure that it sounded disappointingly like a retread of what Joy Orbison was doing two years ago, and to an extent the same is true of Room(s).
For slightly intangible, probably bullshit reasons, I did enjoy Room(s) more than Sepalcure's album. For the first few tracks I had a sinking feeling of "Oh, more of this damn Hotflush bullshit. This is what I get for paying £15 for an album I haven't heard", but as the album went on I got more and more into it, no doubt helped by the listening context of a night-bus journey home. Just about everything that springs from garage and dubstep sounds better in an urban, preferably dark context. Machinedrum uses more vocal samples, chopping and arranging and weaving them together in a way that is much more pleasing than the ugly synth patches of guys like Spatial.
Sadly, I'm just not sold on this whole sound. The rhythmic side of it does nothing for me. I was never big into garage but these days I appreciate the rolling rhythms, which were eminently danceable. I couldn't dance to this album, though, no way. Maybe some people can, but it doesn't work for me, and this is music predominantly structured around the underlying rhythms. It is basically just samples arranged and looped over a rhythm. There's rarely much in the way of structure - tracks simply add more layers as they go on, and the loops are more like riffs than expansive melodies. If you're not hooked on the rhythms, you're not going to be hooked on the whole package.
Also, one thing that I've realised from this little trip is that listening to music for free on Spotify devalues it a little bit. The acid test used to be "Would I pay to own this album?" Really, if you wouldn't pay for an album, it isn't worth talking about. If I'd known what Room(s) sounded like before purchasing, instead of going on the word of a bunch of people with different tastes to me, I wouldn't have forked out £15 for it.
Stupid Arbitrary Rating: 7/10