Released: 22nd September 2014
Label: Young Turks
Since he exploded on to the music scene back in 2011, Aaron Jerome’s moniker SBTRKT has become known as one of the UK’s leading figures in alternative dance music. His self titled debut displayed a unique, tribal aesthetic that held up well both with and without assistance from features, a mix of minimalist post-dubstep and straight up pop that balanced perfectly.
But since the initial buzz of the album wore off, SBTRKT stayed reasonably quiet, only releasing an average live album and a trio of disappointing EP’s named Transitions – whose purpose only served to suggest that the next proper project we were to expect from SBTRKT would be starkly different.
You can see Jerome is making progress simply from the opening track. The debut opened with Heat Wave, a poppy, synthesizer heavy track with layers upon layers of frequent collaborator Sampha’s melancholy vocals. Wonder Where We Land’s opener Day 1, in comparison is a punchy half a minute of lo-fi euphoria. This disparity continues throughout the entire record, as he pretty much departs from his old sound to give way to a more experimental feel, while at the same time striving to maintain relevance. He takes on a wide variety of styles; on Higher featuring hip-hop newcomer Raury, the rapper perfectly complements him, which allows SBTRKT to delve into a more hip-hop orientated sound. He also delves into more funky territory, with the fun NEW YORK, NEW DORP featuring Vampire Weekend front man Ezra Koenig. But even though he has adopted new genre’s and ditched his tribal aesthetic, he’s still managed to maintain his distinctiveness; they all still sound like SBTRKT songs.
Another change is that SBTRKT relies far more on guest features; out of this hour-long record, there is only six minutes of solo material. Sampha appears on four of the tracks, and their chemistry is still as prominent as ever. On If It Happens, SBTRKT strips down the instrumental to nothing but a piano, purely to cater to his muse’s voice. The solemnity of this track is immediately neutralised by Gon Stay, arguably the most danceable song on the LP, proving that there is no bounds to what these two want to do in the studio. A surprisingly good feature is A$AP FERG’s appearance on the final track Voices in My Head, where the music takes an unusually jazzy turn while FERG gets unusually deep, rapping about his use of substance to get over his father’s passing.
Other features, do not work out as well. Koreless shows up on the song Osea, and the pairing only delivers two and a half minutes of unrewarding noise. Look Away featuring Caroline Polachek is a train wreck, the offbeat instrumental seems like it was supposed to contrast her breathy vocals, but the end product just makes it sound messy.
But the main pitfall of the album isn’t the fact that there are too many features that ruin it, it is that SBTRKT uses them as something to hide behind. Most of the tracks have a fairly minimal level of development which ends up in a lot of initial good ideas becoming stale.
The second album is the most difficult in any artist’s career, as there is limited context, only one other project to compare it to. There will always be crowds of fans saying that it isn’t as good as the first one, and it’s true, this album doesn’t come close to its predecessor. But is it disappointing? Not at all.
★ ★ ★ ½