01101101 01110101 01110011 01101001 01100011. In the computer age, that series of numbers is what music has become: entire discographies in electronic form that can be critiqued, shared, and then deleted with just a few clicks. This disposable mentality is exacerbated within electronic dance music, where software like FruityLoops and Ableton enable masses of bedroom DJs to cut-and-paste genre du jour remixes, without any regard to context, album structure, or production nuisances. Gems surface, but the vast majority are lost in the constant flood of SoundCloud uploads.
The San Francisco trio of Ben Swardlick, Eric Luttrell, and Andy Coenen behind The M Machine have erected an attention-diverting dam with their debut Metropolis Pt. 1. Forged in a 20,000 foot warehouse space, the debut is a three-pronged concept inspired by the dark art deco visuals of the 1927 Fritz Lang-directed film Metropolis. The six-track release, which makes up half of a future Metropolis LP, is accompanied by a retro-futuristic narrative and a massive 36-screen iPad controlled “light instrument” for live performances.
The M Machine’s ethos is timeless. The album’s sound is a mixture of contemporary bass music with synths and tempos derived from old-school arcade racing games, but the concept traces back further, to classic concept albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall and The Who’s Tommy— albums based on a protagonist’s storyline, one that hold insights into the traumas of the greater communities.
During “A King Alone”, Luttrell sings, “Look at me, look at all that I control/Everything that I need when I’m alone/is mine alone,” over the track’s chillwave beat. The line is both the internal monologue of the narrative’s beleaguered Shadow King, and possibly a statement on the current status of America’s own socioeconomic inequalities. The album closes with the unsettling big beats of “Shadow In The Rose Garden” and the ponderings of protagonist Luma on her future within Metropolis, a dark but still promising future that is shared by many of today’s 20-somethings.
Featured on Skrillex’s OWSLA imprint, Metropolis features the expected banger (“Black”) and promising opportunities for club remixes, but is more tangible and developed than the current field of club-ready productions. The M Machine’s foundation is strong; now the pressure is on to complete the saga during Part 2.
Essential Tracks: “A King Alone”, “Shadow In The Rose Garden”