Review Summary: Despite giving off the feeling that he's waiting for something to happen, SBTRKT's self-titled debut is still a thorough stab at greatness
While the shaman-like character of SBTRKT might seem like a relatively fresh face, the man behind the mask, Aaron Jerome, has been floating in and out of clubs for the better part of a decade. A somewhat mythical status surrounds him, his tenure in these buried-down-deep hotspots brief and elusive; though a bona-fide star of the underground circuit, he only briefly tapped into the rigorous formalities generally associated with the beating heart of the underground. But what was once strangled broken beats and gospel-like garage excursions have evolved into something far less tangible with the donning of his now requisite tribal head piece. Not so much choosing to remain anonymous as much as it is a rebirth of sorts, Jerome’s music has evolved out of the streets that birthed it into something more defining of his newly found ambiguous nature. All the obvious stuff is still there in spades (dubstep and cut and splice garage are still given the most longing of nods) but they’ve now become stepping stones to launch off, building blocks that form a rough foundation with which Jerome has chosen to build up off.
With his debut long player, SBTRKT attempts to cash in on the hype that’s been slowly buzzing around his often jarring pairing of buzzing breakbeats and slinky, almost tribal, house. Promises have been kept and the right hands have obviously been shaken as Jerome has pulled out the proverbial goods and found himself coming up trumps with his lonesome brand of club fare. SBTRKT
is an album steeped in minimal groove and nervous longing; through headphones he provides the standard assault of stifling bass and the usual squeaks and squeals, but blasting over wall to wall speakers these idiosyncratic grooves become mini anthems, playfully beckoning and hypnotically alluring. He piles on odes and homage’s to a variety of styles and scenes; as mentioned, dubstep and early garage have already played a huge part in sculpting SBTRKT’s sound, but the Chicago house scene and r & b also find their way into the mix, delicately sliding in next to the more jagged patchiness of his urban bass. In a rather rough description you could say that Jerome’s new identity finds itself nestled snugly in between the more complex pop of Jamie Woon and the breathless minimalness of James Blake’s cut up dubstep.
This comparison proves its worth as SBTRKT finds himself playing second fiddle to a number of guest vocal spots on the album, the majority of which come from Sampha who positively crackles over Jerome’s tasteful yet never forceful melodies. His work, particularly on album highlight ‘Hold On’ works beautifully in tandem with Jerome, each artist perfectly in tune with each other, one never attempting to overshadow the other. Jessie Ware continues her career as the UK’s new underground go-to-girl as she cries heartbreak and deliciously pours herself over SBTRKT’s bass-heavy ‘Right Thing To Do’. It’s in these moments, these quiet little sections where Jerome ultimately proves his full worth as a producer to be respected. He works in more subtle ways, more subdued than frantic; he builds backdoors in his beats to escape into, he fills every twist and turn with the most minor of dalliances that always manage to surprise weeks down the road. As a result, highlights come thick and fast, and they remain as such even in the sober hours of the morning, with the pulsing brilliance of ‘Sanctuary’, the drunken soul of ‘Pharaohs’ and the quietly intense and brooding ‘Never Never’ earning the highest marks.
One of the only things holding SBTRKT
back is there seems to be a sense that Jerome is holding back; you get the feeling that the album is waiting for something to happen, some kind of revolution or even revelation to take shape. But no such epiphany arrives before the dial runs cold, and even though the end result is a masterful stab at greatness there’s still a small sense of numbness, an emptiness that wasn’t there before. This is merely a notion that rears its head through solitary listens however, being wired in through a PA system the album transforms from a shrinking violet into a juggernaut of thunderous bass and sing along sensation. Recommended fare for people who prefer their drinks cold and their dance floors hot.