Emperor Machine – Island Boogie LP

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Whisper it quietly, but Andrew Meecham’s ninth album as The Emperor Machine, Island Boogie, may well be the long-serving producer’s strongest set to date. Of course, all his albums ripple with vintage synth sounds, colourful lead lines, dub-flecked electronic disco and lashings of cosmic intent, but this one just feels a little more special.

Island Boogie is certainly special. Meecham’s “most personal” full-length to date was inspired by his experiences at the Rotation Garden Party – a beloved micro-festival promoted by a group of friends (including sometime Bizarre Inc and Chicken Lips partner Dean Meredith), renowned for the quality of its custom-built Klipschorn soundsystem. “The album’s title sums up the vibe that you get from Rotation,” he explains. “It may be held in a landlocked venue but it gives a wonderful sense of isolation – it is an audiophile paradise.”

Meecham road-tested rough versions of the album’s eight tracks at Rotation 2023, with the feedback and dancefloor reaction guiding the sound and arrangement of the final mixes. Fittingly, Meecham will return to the event to showcase the album at Rotation 2024 this July. Given the inspiration he’s drawn from previous editions of the festival, that will be a very special occasion.

Musically, Island Boogie offers the most fully functioning and expertly constructed expression of The Emperor Machine sound yet, a style Meecham describes as “electronic cosmic disco-boogie”. It’s a sound that takes cues from early ‘80s NYC punk-funk and dub disco, vintage electro, proto-house and left-of-centre synth-boogie, but one that’s instantly recognisable to those who have followed Meecham’s career over the last three decades.

Island Boogie also sees Meecham continue his blossoming working relationship with Séverine Mouletin, whose stylish and distinctive vocals previously graced his popular ‘Dance Par Amour’ and ‘Your Own Style’ singles. Here Mouletin features on four tracks: the acid-flecked retro-futurist wave-boogie of ‘La Cassette’ (featuring additional percussion by Rupert Brown); the infectious, bleep-sporting headiness of recent single ‘Dévoilez-Vous’; and the squelchy analogue synth-funk of ‘Wanna Pop With You’ and ‘Vas-y-Le Chat’.

Meecham also finds space for a cover of Fox’s 1976 pop-rock classic ‘S-s-s-single Bed’, one of the Stafford-based artist’s all-time favourites. His version, featuring lead vocals by Michelle Bee and guitar from Dave Atherton, re-imagines the track as a subtly Chic-influenced slab of infectious electro-pop rich in kaleidoscopic synth sounds, sing-along choruses and shuffling drums.

The instrumental foundations of the classic Emperor Machine sound come to the fore on the album’s three other cuts. There’s the jazz-funk-flecked warmth of the LP-opening title track; the sparse squelches, bleeps, TB-303 style bass and brightly coloured electronics of ‘Walk The Dog’; and the exotic, slow-motion cosmic electronica of ‘Cha Murrah Etem’, a warm but poignant affair dedicated to his late father. Heady and intoxicating, with hints of Balearica and digital reggae, it offers a fittingly beautiful and tactile conclusion to Meecham’s most expressive and accessible album yet.

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