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Urban Biology [Explicit]

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Audio CD, July 18, 2016
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Urban Biology [Explicit] by Machine Drum

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I find it hard not to compare Machine Drum with Prefuse 73. Both artists debut albums were released more or less concurrently in 2001, and upon first hearing the two, I had the same initial impression: the music was a sort of odd but addictive combination of chopped-up hip-hop fused with an IDM aesthetic. Machine Drums debut, Now You Know, was by definition experimental: the solo project of Travis Stewart; created as a genre-bending fusion of hip-hop and glitch which, in and of itself, was a sort of experiment, as it seemed to be designed to appeal to fans of-- for example, both DJ Krush and Aphex Twin. While not quite as heavily hip-hop-based as Prefuses debut album, Machine Drums music incorporated hard hitting hip hot beats with manipulated samples, glitches, and a sort of ambient trippiness that lent itself to late-night headphone listening. But the most important distinction one could make between Machine Drum or Prefuse 73 and reasonably similar artists such as Boards of Canada or Arovane is the adherence to hip-hop as a base around which the music is constructed. In a genre with so many similar-sounding artists, Machine Drum and Prefuse 73 most certainly stood out as pioneers willing to take interesting risks with the genre, by fusing IDM with other, more urban genres like R&B and hip-hop. Urban Biology is a fitting sophomore release for Machine Drum. I was pleasantly surprised and pleased to hear Stewart remaining firmly dedicated to the formula he created on Now You Know. Urban Biology does, however, push the formula to a more challenging level, without ever seeming gratuitous or pretentious. Machine Drums new record is arguably a better album than Now You Know, and while maybe not, upon first listen, as original as Stewarts debut album, Urban Biology is unquestionably more demanding on the listener, and ultimately satisfying. Headphone music of the highest order, it is just unbelievable how much is going on in this music. Tracks like Icya and Uptown feature some magnificent programming that would make Richard D. James proud. There are moments on the album, in fact, that recall Aphex Twins bizarre, yet incredibly engaging take on R&B, Windowlicker. By the middle of the album, Urban Biology starts to lean, musically, toward drill & bass (particularly with the lengthy, Aphex-esque Floss) while, at the same time, never really deviating from Machine Drums formula. Realization begins with Machine Drums distinctive processed chimes, and a beat thats harder than Chinese algebra, until it metamorphoses into a super fast drill & bass cacophony, and then finally into chilled-out ambience. Jigga Why? starts out with what sounds like cut-up Japanese rap vocals, until the disturbing, dissonant keyboards overtake the music, carrying the track in an odd direction, and then ultimately returning it back to where it started. Urban Biology is an extremely cohesive album, overall. The record begins with the deceptively ambient Cream Soda Part One, which then leads into the gorgeous, upbeat Cream Soda Part Two. Every track on the album leads into the next, and although Urban Biology is primarily a beat-heavy album, it is punctuated by a few mostly ambient tracks, such as the title track, which is reminiscent of Vangelis Blade Runner score, and a series of short ambient pieces, like Dog Day and Jack, which serve as segues into the longer, more upbeat tracks. I cannot imagine how much work must have gone into the creation of this record. The drum programming on several of the tracks rivals that of Aphex Twins Richard D. James Album, and utilizes the most intriguing elements of IDM to give Urban Biology a uniquely creative twist on hip-hop. Its an album which alternately makes you nod your head and puts you into a trance: absolutely gorgeous music that helps to put a little life into the slowly dying genre of IDM. --Tiny Mix Tapes

It seems as though the artists behind the moniker Machine Drum have been doing their homework. Information on the internet is sparse, much of the music on their newest offering Urban Biology has easily spottable influences from the Warp catalogue, and their on an American label. As most people that follow IDM closely, information gathering can, at times, be an arduous task for smaller artists without websites, Warp Records is probably the best known IDM record label in the world, and America is now the breeding ground for a large portion of the talent within the genre. In fact, its almost as if Machine Drum is the Britney Spears of the IDM world- prepackaged to meet all of your independent music fans needs. And, as Spears music is tailored to an audience that truly enjoys her music, Machine Drum delivers the goods as well. Cut up voices fill the cracks between the snare drum on Icya, evoking Prefuse73s more spacious moments. This trend of quick cut and paste vocal samples continues on Countchocula where the simply keyboard line floats unaware beneath the stuttering and jumpy percussive effects of a broken MC. This keyboard line gently evolves into something close to a Boards of Canada-like ambience. The effect is perfectly euphonic. Its originality is the only thing that can be brought into question. The finest track, by far, is Realization. The track, which should have been the album closer, has two tracks following it, which finish the album. It mixes a glorious synth line with a hip hop beat that marches at a glacial pace. In the middle of the track, however, the drum beat goes into double time and races the track to a very satisfying conclusion. The title track mixes found sound of what sounds like a train station and a warbly synth line that, once again, reminds of one of Boards of Canadas codas on their earlier EPs. This nod to kitschtronica, though, is tempered by a heavy helping of hip hop influenced rhythm on nearly all of the tracks on the album. Its as though Machine Drum has taken the most interesting portions of the Warp roster and synthesized them into one record. And being over an hours worth of music, the album does fulfill in terms of length. While nothing could be emphatically deemed filler on the record, it seems as though if a few cuts had been made that the release would have a much larger impact. That being said, the sheer volume of music on here points towards being a very productive artist, which is something often not seen in the IDM community. And as any community has its innovators, Machine Drum follows in the fine tradition of the synthesizers. Machine Drum takes the most interesting and palatable features of IDM and molds into a satisfying whole. Theres nothing wrong with that, right? --Stylus Magazine

Machine Drum's Urban Biology 2xLP begins on the city streets like nothing more than an open window onto the persistent sound of the insomnias city. ""Cream Soda Part 1"" plays out like the play of lights across the dark sky over the metropolis, and ""Cream Soda Part 2"" begins to hiccup and stutter, replaying the long introductory tones of ""Cream Soda Part 1"" over a haphazard snare drum and cut-up electronic squiggles and beat patterns. This is the beginning of the biology lesson: the commingling of the urban with the digital, the organic with the mechanic. ""Def On It"" wanders farther into cut-up glitch territory, taking a hint of the melody from the previous track and skewing it beneath a shivering, quivering beat sequence that only gets more ADD as the track progresses. ""Countchocula"" picks up the tiny vocal element and turns it into a full-blown demonic possession while snare and hi-hat keep the rhythm check-check-checking along as if nothing untoward is happening. The biology lesson continue across the other three sides of the LP set, each track taking elements of the previous experiment and twisting them further in an iterative process of making the new from the old. ""Berim"" picks up from the scatter vocal analysis of ""Countchocula,"" inserting drop-outs and a jazz drummer to further the evolution of the Urban Biology sound. ""Uptown"" breaks with the distortion on the human voices, allowing them to clearly chatter a single word again and again while a piece of bowed metal provides the duet for the stuttering exhortation to head uptown. ""Realization"" begins side three with an early dawn breaking downtempo rhythm, cut only by a recorded voice. The single voice becomes many and the laboratory experiments continue as the beat become increasingly complex and the electronic signals start to pulse and modulate over the scattered voices. The vocal skewing erupts in ""Jigga Why?"" and turns a hip-hop experience into a nightmarish stutter of looped vocals, oblique samples and dribbling drum rhythms. Machine Drum is exploring the synthesis of voice and machinery in Urban Biology, working in his digital machine shop to cut and splice bubbling vocal patterns with machine music. He grafts sweet synthetic melodies onto hiccups and coughs of human words to build scarred ambient tracks like ""Floss,"" and he compresses a twenty-minute field recording of child at recess into an eight-minute montage of slippery voices and squelchy, propulsive beats for the final ""Kids World."" Urban Biology as a whole is a laboratory notebook of experimentation, realized blueprints of an amalgamated design of fully cross-bred man and machine. It's an interesting record of how human noises can be rhythmic instrumentation as well as melodic voices. --Igloo
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (July 18, 2016)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: CD Baby
  • Run Time: 71 minutes
  • ASIN: B00008OAIF
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #807,528 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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This is my first Machine Drum CD, so I bought it taking a chance that it would either be great, mediocre, or something worse. From the beginning, this album gives the feeling of a bustling city, full of life, but also full of loneliness. This comes out in the slightly odd rhythms and melodies in many of the songs, including Floss, Kids World, and others. Many of the tracks have some element that sounds out of place, but in a good way. Some might also argue that a few of these tracks needed vocals from some guest MCs, but none were used here.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have songs like Jigga Why, which is fast, energetic, and has infectious vocal editing. I felt that the album could have used a few more tracks like this one, however.

Overall, Machine Drum's talent comes through in his use of samples and intricate drum rhythms. In my opinion, he earns his name on this album.
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