SBTRKT - Self-Titled
Tue 26th Jul, 2011 Music Reviews 824 viewsin
SBTRKT is the debut full-length record from UK dubstep producer Aaron Jerome’s project of the same name. Preferring to remain largely anonymous, Jerome has chosen to allow the music to speak for itself and donning elaborate, African tribal-influenced masks on stage whilst performing (one of which is featured on the album’s cover) to “uplift the soul and challenge the normality of electronic music and production”. What should be remembered is that the music itself definitely stands up to any scrutiny or close examination and Jerome’s debut is an eclectic, cosmopolitan melange of unmistakably contemporary dance music.
Heatwave kicks things off with a tense crescendo of synth arpeggio loops, haunting sound effects, clattering, evolving beats and African mbira sounds. The silken vocal harmonies that accompany the track are provided courtesy of Sampha, who in effect was Jerome’s partner in crime for the record.
Sampha appears in a more prominent role on Hold On, delivering an aching croon that adds layers of poignancy to the chorus of “You’re giving me the coldest stare/Like you don’t even know I’m there”. The subdued melancholy of the track is wiped away in the effervescent Wildfire, featuring the inimitable vocal talents of Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano. One of the album’s catchiest moments, Wildfire is driven along by a propulsive, direct bassline that sits high in the mix and a beat recalling the simple but effective sounds of the classic TR-808 drum machine.
Sanctuary is one of the album’s most interesting moments, showcasing an unconventional structure and incorporating another strong bassline and frantic synth arpeggio lines which weave around each other, while Sampha sings “If I can love you babe, maybe I can hold you down”.
Trials Of The Past is an excellent example of contemporary UK ‘bass music’, encapsulating the sound and energy of artists like Jamie Woon, Skream, James Blake, Benga, Scuba and Zomby, and once again Sampha provides a smooth vocal full of heartbroken inflections and surrealist imagery (“And the ghoulish entities, they come floating through the wall”).
Jerome utilises the hallmark dubstep technique of a short period of silence in the segue between Trials Of The Past and Right Thing To Do in order to build a sense of tension and heighten the senses, before the pulsing synths, deep sub-bass and delicate guest vocals of Jessie Ware announce their presence. The chorus of “Such a hurricane/Such a hurting pain/Trapped in my soul and I can’t explain” is the track’s most memorable moment, leading into the brilliant Something Goes Right. Utilising dynamics to perfection, Jerome steadily takes the track from subdued, organ-and-vocals R&B to veritable dancefloor filler with the help of right hand man Sampha. While this is one of the record’s highlights, Pharaohs takes things to a different level.
One of the leading contenders for the best dance track of 2011, Pharaohs, features the vocals of Roses Gabor and pans out as a brilliant slice of buoyant, effervescent dance. Unquestionably the record’s zenith, the track incorporates a swaggering French house beat, an effortlessly delivered and incessantly catchy hook laden with regal imagery (“All I see is you, stars, open arms, pharaohs, god, kings and queens”) and a bouncy synth line anchored tightly to the melodic, near-treble-range bassline. The instrumental Ready Set Loop follows, a perfectly executed balance of schizophrenic beats and lead lines interspersed with spaced-out atmospherics, heavily recalling both the style and dynamics of innovative LA prodigy Flying Lotus. Sampha returns on Never Never, a smooth piece of R&B providing the foundation for a tale of loss and regret (“See I’ve never never had so much to gain and threw it all away/And if I ever ever had a chance again, I’d probably do the same”). Go Bang closes things on an upbeat note, led by rapid synth lines almost reminiscent of vintage arcade games, and rolling, tribal-influenced beats.
One of the greatest strengths of SBTRKT is that it does something few records of its ilk seem to do – here the songs are given the highest priority, and the aesthetic comes afterwards. Jerome never places style over substance and while often exhibiting a sense of suave restraint, he never turns down the opportunity to showcase a great melody.
Most importantly, Jerome manages to push boundaries and produce a forward-thinking record that sounds like it couldn’t have been made in any other time but now, and he does so without even a moment that hints at alienating the listener. This is how a contemporary dance record should sound. While subtly nodding towards the past, SBTRKT suggests movement towards only one place – the future.
SBTRKT is out now on Young Turks/Remote Control.