British electronic artist SBTRKT – revered for his use of punchy-catchy synths and ability to balance glitchy electronic rhythms with fiery vocals – manages to elevate his material while avoiding sophomore slump territory with his second full-length.
Previous recordings found the Brit otherwise known as Aaron Jerome mastering the forward-thinking house music that's been emerging from Europe over the past few years, but Wonder Where We Land represents a paradigm shift for SBTRKT as he calls on elements of electronica, hip-hop, pop, and indie rock to build the 15 tracks. First single “NEW DORP. NEW YORK” juxtaposes Vampire Weekend lead Ezra Koenig’s sassy vocal stylings against a big fat lowend groove and a bouncing chaotic whirl of chimes, clatters and various other electro flotsam.
Frequent guest collaborator Sampha once again lends his singing and piano-playing talents to the fray but he doesn't dominate the tracks. SBTRKT chops and splices Sampha’s sultry vocals throughout the title track, leaving behind a wonderfully cacophonic yet harmonious mess. The rest of the LP ranges from spitfire (Raury’s lightning-fast delivery and catchy hook on “Higher” foreshadows a fruitful career for the Atlanta-based rapper) to soulful (alumni Jessie Ware returns for the show-stopping “Problem Solved”). There's even an appearance by A$AP FERG, who closes the album with the evocative “Voices In My Head.” Who can argue with lines like, “Higher than Mars, killing ourselves 'cause we lived in a fucked up environment / Dreams of becoming doctors and firemen shouldn’t give in to this early retirement”?
The album’s soul lies in the maturity of SBTRKT's production. Piano loops, jazzy snaps, and velvety basslines fill the album, but each element is left with enough room to breathe comfortably. Given his roots in bass jams and four-to-the-floor house tunes, it’s remarkable to see SBTRKT's progress in just a few short years. Wonder Where We Land could very well encourage people on the fringes of electronic music to delve deeper with its range of non-electronic influences.
The death of his brother inspired the material on Wonder Where We Land, and a feeling of melancholy and uncertainty scores the work. While none of the tracks are the dance club bangers of past efforts, the album does succeed in enveloping listeners in SBTRKT’s wonderfully painful world and could take his already-impressive career to the next level. Don’t knock “NEW DORP. NEW YORK” or SBTRKT just yet.
Critics' Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.