There are artists whose ability to successfully navigate the tangled taxonomy and minutiae of the various musical genres without getting lost in the ether or becoming an unintended parody are a key to their longevity, the ingredient that keeps them ever new, avoiding — to paraphrase Wilde — the only unforgivable sin: to become boring. Metropolis Pt. I is an exercise in genre-spanning — in this case, the acute differences between electronic music’s house, dubstep leaning and pop shades, which, while minor and most definitely taken from the same paint chip, are vastly different in how they affect the listener — that, like any such journey, finds both its strengths and weaknesses in the variety it exhibits.
The M Machine opens the album with the ever-recognizable house style, the stalwart of the genre that has spanned from the pacifier and Day-Glo raves of the ’90s, to fraternity houses and music festivals of today; indeed, this workhorse is what predominantly comprises Metropolis, and is the album’s weakest link. The key to house music is understanding its key demographic. Who are these people who would spend inordinate amounts of money to camp out in some Godforsaken, sweat-soaked field, baking in the mud under the summer sun, surrounded by an insufferable and seizure-inducing sea of tie-dye and hula-hoops, lest one iota of their existence be deprived of precious stimulation? They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from Keystone-swilling bros with Quicksilver graphic tees or color-blocked polos, to girls with pink hair and drawn-on eyebrows and painkiller addictions, to serious music students and artisan types.
What they all have in common, and what they share with house music, is an affinity for protracted pleasure piqued by delayed gratification. Sure, they simmer and bubble and dance with the music — but what they are really doing is waiting. Waiting for the hook, waiting for the breakdown, waiting for the drop, waiting for the build up, waiting for the release. And it is with this fundamental understanding of the genre that The M Machine’s misstep becomes clear; when it came to their house pieces, at least, they climaxed far too fast.
Release comes in the second piece, “Deep Search.” Following the serviceable but cliched Wachowski fight sequence/8 bit sound chip on anabolic steroids and cocaine/made to crescendo sound of “Immigrants,” the spartan, rubbery, Neptunes-esque underwater opening of “Deep Search” is enough to immediately set the song apart. It is what it becomes, however, that both anoints and destroys the rest of Metropolis’s dance tracks. Everything falls away, leaving only a delicate, simple synth line, slowly filled in by lush instrumentation that swells into a majestic bridge whose orchestral quality is legitimately breath-taking; it is a moment that lays bare all the emotional power electronic music can contain, followed quickly by a descent back to Atlantis, and just like that, the moment is gone. This brief glorious peak would be the beautifully tragic end if The M Machine desired to make a house-only album.
Luckily, they did not. While the industrial sounds and jackboot stomp of “Black” show some promise, the cut quickly devolves into an infuriatingly obnoxious piece of achingly trite dance-dance-dance, down to the annoying “black” that signifies the release. It is by vocals, however, that The M Machine salvage Metropolis, allowing it to escape the shadow of the “Deep Search” bridge. “A King Alone” and “Faces” move The M Machine decidedly into the realm of electropop, a fun little niche they occupy well by virtue of their more house-leaning interpretation of the sound. “A King Alone” rides a low, babbling shimmer crested intermittently to form a mellifluous cut that tip-toes delicately on the line of becoming saccharine. “Faces” is more intriguing, yet less enjoyable, best described as the “Oil Ocean” zone from childhood obsession Sonic the Hedgehog 2, all inky blacks and impossibly deep purples and blues mixed with the orange found at the bottom of a highball glass of tequila sunrise.
The M Machine’s last flavor is a sort of dubstep-lite, lacking the snicker-inducing, brostep, jock jams intensity of their label mate Skrillex and skewing instead towards the more melodic, slight wobble and riff-y structure of Nero on “Shadow In The Rose Garden.” The emphasis is more on rhythm than violence; there are no viscera-rattling drops to be found here.
Like most brands of electronic music, The M Machine inevitably lose something without the ketamine, the fury, and the beautiful girls surrendering to the release that makes a live or group experience so essential to truly understanding the band. In lieu of that, Metropolis Pt. I serves as a fine introduction, with its variety of tastes, at the very least, leaving one curious as to what is contained in Pt. II.
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B. David Zarley is a freelance writer based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter, @BDavidZarley, or check the bars around Wrigleyville on any given night.