Somnambule - Writing About Music

Machine Drum ~ Half The Battle, Urban Biology

Half The Battle is chock full of big beats: some tracks hurry along as if late for something really important, others stomp around as if just plain angry at the world. Most deploy a hiphop template. Half The Battle starts off sounding motoric, motorised, programmed, but later on the feeling gets more ethereal, dreamy and wistful.

Many of Half The Battle’s tracks feature vocals caught and tortured like a face in a shattered mirror: stuttering consonants out without ever making words, cussing, derailed and simultaneously mechanised. When an intelligible sentiment becomes audible, for example: “I love you, I dream of the day we can be together”, its vocoder’ed anonymity and repetition render it too spooky to be in any way comforting. Later, on Izey Rael (Lackluster Mix), a genuine degree of pathos is achieved by the foregrounding of exhausted, grainy voices which sound like they’re calling from faded photographs.

Throughout, slow innocent melodies snake their way behind and around the beats and the vocals. Occasionally they threaten to drown everything else out like a huge shoal of seaweed might entangle and drag down an unwary swimmer. Machine Drum’s melodies function in a number of ways: initially like an airborne sedative - spooky, untrustworthy and controlling, but later like a nostalgic thread of memory to be held onto in the hope of redemption.

Urban Biology is a little more chilled, a little more spacious than Half The Battle. Tracks like Urban Biology and Dog Day are pure ambient forays and serve as welcome interludes to the more beat oriented numbers. Having said that the template of beats, cut up vocals and dreamy melodies remains the same.

Think Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, Stepford Wives. Machine Drum operate where two rivers run together, the rivers’ names are Boards of Canada and Prefuse 73. If you’re a fan of either, go swim with Machine Drum.
Colin Buttimer
October 2003
Published by Milkfactory