Though they released their debut album way back in 2006, the Nashville duo of Jensen Sportag (Austin Wilkinson and Elvis Craig) didn't release their second, Stealth of Days, until 2013. After starting off with a squiggly, danceable sound that called to mind Prince recorded in a phone booth, the duo have slowly taken all the bounce and snap out of their sound. Their clouded-over R&B takes late-night ballads and reduces them to the wobbly spaces in between the beats, the deep breaths taken before singing, and the lingering aftermath of keys pressed down, strings plucked, and drums hit.
Jensen Sportag’s debut album Stealth of Days is a sonic hybrid that stands out for its audaciousness even in the context of a dance music scene striving for experimentation. (I recently found out that “ambient gabber” is an actual thing that people are making, as mind-bendingly improbable as that sounds.) What’s notably bold about what the duo (Austin Wilkinson and Elvis Craig of Nashville, Tennessee) are up to isn’t that it hasn’t been done before—it has, a bunch. What makes it a real aesthetic risk is that in the past it’s been done so badly.
Contemporary R&B, which for a while felt like it was on the brink of collapsing under the weight of overwrought vocals and dull pop glitz, has adapted surprisingly well to the internet age. A period out of the chart limelight might even have been exactly what it needed. Smart new voices like Frank Ocean and The Weeknd are throwing their home-made sensibilities against the backdrop of the genre’s chart-dominating heyday, introducing new influences and cutting out the sag.
Stealth of Days, Jensen Sportag’s second album, was apparently inspired by “the folk music tradition of sampling from musical memory”. As PR spiels go this might seem a little laboured, but it neatly captures something that the Nashville duo’s music has been gesturing towards for some time. It’s as if they once obsessed over the cultural products of a past era (the 80s, naturally) and are now, years later, trying to reconstruct their loves, getting the outline more-or-less right and gleefully filling in the hazy areas with bright, strange detail.