I was instantly struck by the texture and mood of Machinedrum’s opening track from Vapor City, Gunshotta. There is a grit and darkness to the sound palette that has the same visceral effect as Burial, sucking you into an ambience that communicates more a place than a feeling. There is an intentional layering of what sounds like tape bias and vinyl crackle, which also doubles as the feeling of soft rain falling in a dark alley of Vapor City. The vocal samples seem selected not based on the words sung, but the spirit of the delivery. There is a contrast between the plaintive melodic vocals and the more staccato and aggressive reggae/dub/rasta vocal clip.
The synth chords are muted and awash in reverb, the 2-step style drum loop emerging from the muffled darkness as a low-pass filter opens. The drums have the signature “break” sound of kick, hi hat, and snare hits that have been individually sampled from old recordings, then chopped into the rapid-fire groove. Similar to the filter fade-in of the beat, the “rasta” vocal loop is peeled open into clarity, adding an accent phrase to lead us into the full weight of the song.
The bass emerges with behemoth weight and depth, a sub-bass with fuzzy overtones in the upper harmonics due to a tasty saturation effect, which makes the extremely low notes able to be detected on more bass-challenged systems (though I’d recommend listening to this song with decent headphones or subwoofer for the full impact). During the rebuild-up section midway through the song, Machinedrum uses high-pass filtering on the bass to thin its girth down but retain the upper harmonics. The vocal samples get thinned out to an almost “futzed” degree, then the body of the sound is re-introduced just prior to the next drop. It feels like there is even more saturation on the bass when it hits this time, and a 16th note clave/snare type element adds new momentum to the track as it fades away into the low-pass darkness like a monophonic minimalist version of a guitar solo.
From this peak the elements begin assuming their muffled states and fading away from the listener, leaving the heavy texture of the tape hiss and vinyl crackle, which is being pummeled by the almost non-existent kick drum, compressing it down to almost nothing on each beat, forcing a disorienting pumping of the ambience. The effect is a feeling that the kick drum still exists in the song, but has become silence, still massive and subjugating the other sounds, like a black hole distorting time and space.