With Human Energy, Travis Stewart (aka Machinedrum) has made a career-defining album, one which will take him from best-kept-secret of the electronic music cognoscenti to breakout star of the US music scene. Why and how? The simple answer is that he’s fallen in love and moved to California, let in light and warmth to his always technically stunning productions. The complex answer is, well, more complicated. But then, you can spend forever trying to explain or you can just revel in this remarkable album.
Let’s begin with the simple. Written between January and April 2016, the record “reflects a period of great change in my life. I moved across the country to a new city, I proposed to the girl of my dreams, I moved into a new house, bought a brand new computer and set off to write a new album.” But as well as these personal elements, moving to California allowed Stewart to explore a long-held interest in “esoteric and new age concepts… When I was younger I started researching energy healing, meditation and other pseudosciences after learning that my great grandfather was a healer.”
Somehow, these ideas began to provide a vitality and intensity for his music-making: “I played the songs for friends and their immediate reaction was that the songs made them feel something in their bodies, like the music was pouring energy into them. I realized that I was creating an album that will make people feel something instantly, connecting my intention with the listener.” Stewart is well aware that some of these ideas will come over as “straight up cheesy.” His best rebuttal is his album, which astounds over and over again with the sheer brilliance of its execution, the warmth and beauty it resonates with, and yes, the unremitting energy of the music. Who can say if Human Energy can heal you? It will certainly leave you with a huge, goofy smile slathered all over your face.
From opener “Lapis,” Machinedrum sets out his stall — an arpeggio ascending to heaven which, apparently building towards the mother of all drops, instead fades up and off into the ether. The music throughout is scintillating, from the mind-candy riffs of “White Crown” (featuring some crazy guitar work from Tosin Abasi of progresive metal band Animals As Leaders), the ecstatic d&b finale of “Do It 4 U” (an absolute stand-out with showstopper vox from singer-of-the-moment D∆WN), the smile-inducing, melodic brilliance of “Color Communicator,” or the precision and build of first single “Dos Puertas,” featuring Rihanna collaborator Kevin Hussein.
Hussein, D∆WN and Abasi aren’t the only collaborators to have bought into this new take on the Machinedrum universe. Fresh off the back of two prominent collabs on Beyonce’s Lemonade, MeLo-X offers understated, classy assistance on the wonderful “Angel Speak,” sitting his voice in amongst heavenly vocal chops. Jesse Boykins III offers a moment of astral r&b goodness on “Celestial Levels.” Rochelle Jordan provides the lift off as Machinedrum works the rhythm flips on “Tell U.” There are telling contributions, too, from Ruckazoid, Roses Gabore and SK Simeon.
You could in fact, pick almost any track from this record and argue that it is a standout, all of which adds to the sense that Travis Stewart, having discovered that rare thing—spirituality and purity in electronic music—is about to have a very big year. “It’s an exchange of energy through sound,” he finishes by telling us. “It’s a healing experience. We’re living in dark times and with so much negativity existing in the world I want to be a rare voice of positivity.” You don’t really need to read any more of this — you just need to hear it.