Travis Stewart (a.k.a Machinedrum) really knows how to milk a concept. Last September, he released the excellent Vapor City LP, which found a sultry balance between jungle, hip-hop, and melodic ambience. Based on an imaginary city from Stewart's dreams, the loose theme didn't really seem to affect the listening experience, but it did provide a narrative for his future output.
Over the ensuing year, Stewart dropped one-off tracks and EPs every few months via a email list called Vapor City Citizenship. Some of the more substantial releases were based on specific districts from Vapor City, including Vizion Center's ambient suite and the spastic pleasure zone of Fenris District. (Admittedly, it was all a little hard to keep up with, even for avowed Machinedrum fans.) Now, to finally wrap up this fertile creative period, Vapor City Archives offers another album's worth of new material that fits snugly within the same universe. It takes a few notable risks in composition and rhythmic style, but as is evident from the title, this isn't the new Machinedrum album.
"Boxoff" opens the record with a revved-up jungle rhythm and breezy synths, as Stewart's wooly vocals call out from the distance. Even if this highlight could have been on Vapor City, it finds a newfound aggression and tautness that speaks to his continued mastery of production. "Safed," on the other hand, sounds like the start of an entirely new direction. Channeling Bibio with his fingerpicked acoustic guitar layers, Stewart establishes a serene mood before dropping in some twitchy footwork percussion. "Only 1 Way 2 Know" continues this trend with an extended outro that showcases his filtered guitar lines and falsetto harmonies—for nearly a minute, it fades out like a warped folk song.
Wisely, Stewart also lends Vapor City Archives a more cohesive feel by including some ambient pieces that allow for introspection. Of the three, "Endless <3" stands out with its hazy synth arpeggios that recall Ray Lynch's classic "The Oh of Pleasure," only a lot muggier. Perhaps the strangest offering on the LP is "B Patient," which alternates between a gritty jungle tone—think police sirens, rough whooshing sounds, and pitched-down vocal samples —and a gorgeous, solitary guitar melody. It might come together feeling a little undercooked, but the schizophrenic cut marks a real sense of possibility for Stewart's next phase. As it stands, Vapor City Archives has more than enough quality outtakes to tide people over until then.