My last hope in electronic dance music I left in the hands of The M Machine.
See, while I watched other artists crumble under the pressure of capitalist interests to assimilate to the same tired song-writing molds, The M Machine soared eminently as the genre’s secret weapon. Could they be the ones to innovate it back to life? Of course, I knew it would never happen, but I held on to the hope that at least they — in spite of all trends and pressures — would forever retain their creative integrity, the value of which they have demonstrated since their exhilarating OWSLA debut, “Promise Me A Rose Garden / Glow.”
While “Glow” still holds the throne as one of the best indie-dance tracks of all time, The M Machine’s follow-up EP — Metropolis, Pt. I — was just as exciting. Over a brief six tracks and using little more than scattered artwork and a series of succinct liner notes, the trio had contextualized their brand of ominous electro-house with an engaging, thematically-relevant mythos: a dystopian world powered by a mysterious M-shaped machine. The duality was surprisingly effective, as the story — carried by sparse lyricism but rich aural context — brought out a measure of human warmth under the music’s sleek veneer. Who knew producers could be such evocative songwriters?
Yet by Metropolis, Pt. II the trio had already begun to drop the ball as far as their musical integrity is concerned. To be sure, the technical quality of the tracks went undisturbed, but there was an audible preference for “drops” and “bangers” — in their vogue-est vogue, admittedly, in 2013 — all over the record. (You know an artist has gone off the deep end when their music is affected by even a dash of “moombahton.”) There were still memorable indie-dance moments like “Tiny Anthem” — but even “Tiny Anthem” lacked the unsettling, affecting qualities of “A King Alone” or even “Faces,” the track’s Pt. I counterparts. In other words, the thematic cohesion of The M Machine project — not to mention the “Metropolis” mythos — was audibly coming apart at the seams.
Well, that was four years ago. There was no third volume in the series, for better or worse, but there was certainly a whole lot of waiting and wondering on my part. Would the trio ever return? Would they even make a good comeback? Everyone from Feed Me to Moguai to Birdy Nam Nam to Skrillex had failed me — had failed EDM. Surely, if nobody else, The M Machine could revive it!
Let me put it this way, myself from two years ago: “No.”
Nothing about the trio’s first full-length record, Glare, is egregiously bad. But it represents the same pivot toward a safe approach that marred the output of virtually all EDM producers after about 2012 — just five years later. In other words, instead of opting for the bass-heavy, repetitive drops of their contemporaries, The M Machine have since drifted listlessly toward the faux sentimentalism of synth-pop artists like Flume and The Chainsmokers.
For better or worse, while the trio’s members have traded their exploratory tendencies for mainstream accessibility, their new approachability does not translate into an aptitude for mainstream success — which, ironically, does not seem to be what the trio is after in the first place. The result, in other words, is a dozen tracks that don’t belong anywhere: Lacking in the former ambition that made the trio’s output a refreshing and compelling alternative to the blandest EDM, yet not sufficiently indulgent for the annals of pop-riddled Spotify Weekly playlists, The M Machine has created an album that is both sonically uninteresting and hopelessly insular — a record that is virtually doomed to flop.
Especially disheartening is the record’s total lack of thematic or narrative cohesion, formerly anchored by the mythical M-shaped machine that decorated the project’s output. Surely not every record must tell a concrete story, but in this case the mythos was an engaging, important element of the project that has been unnecessarily stripped away, further inhibiting interest.
To be sure, there are enjoyable moments on the record, especially on the record’s back half. Some, like portions of the sentimental outro, are outright touching. But they still feel overly expendable, overly faceless; while the production is technically good (although the vocals are rather poor), these tracks could have been made, theoretically, by anyone. In other words, The M Machine brings nothing special to the table on Glare, especially now that even the project’s former identity has been compromised.
As a fan of The M Machine who doesn’t mind the occasional pop indulgence, I may go back to certain tracks off this record twice or thrice in the future. But if the music represented on Glare is not up your alley, then it is probably not worth your time.