Release Date: Jun 28, 2011
Record label: Young Turks
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
Ambitious like James Blake, and freewheeling like the London dubstep scene he’s lit up for two years, SBTRKT (real name Aaron Jerome) tries a lot of things on his debut — and succeeds at most. Guest vocalist Sampha evokes Blake’s parched croon, only SBTRKT is far more urgent and playful than Blake’s album. The vocal-driven songs have an irresistible R&B-once-removed hookiness: Basement Jaxx would kill to have made the buoyant, 2-step garage throwback "Pharoahs." Elsewhere, "Something Goes Right," "Ready Set Loop," and "Sanctuary" have a starry-eyed quality that's grounded by the intricately skipping rhythms and, particularly on the grinding "Wildfire," mutant mega-bass.
Above this chunk of text, you will see the soon-to-be iconic SBTRKT mask, behind which lies an anonymous wizard of a producer. He has been brewing remixes under the radar for a while now, and made his debut on the Young Turks label last year with the release of the Step In Shadows EP, a small collection of electronic instrumental tracks that caught Pitchfork’s eagle eye. Since then, he has been slaving away to create his self-titled debut album, 'one of the finest records the dubstep genre has produced so far' - so sayeth Steve Lamacq.
The debut full-length from UK producer SBTRKT comes as a bit of a surprise. Up until now we knew him mostly for some high-profile remixes and his original, instrumental tracks, which were solid but nothing to flip out over. He was loosely dubstep in the way, say, Floating Points is, using the genre as a rough guide but also weaving in several other strains of contemporary bass music.
The prevalent dubstep sound may still be in its infancy, but it's already produced more essential albums than the 2-step garage scene it originated from, with 2011 U. K. Top Ten efforts from Magnetic Man, Katy B and James Blake joining underground classics from Burial and Skream in the genre's increasingly impressive portfolio.
To be self-effacing in today's musical landscape is a novelty, even if it means wearing a tribal mask to keep listeners focused on the music, and not the person making it. Maybe that's why SBTRKT (pronounced "Subtract") has generated a respectable buzz as an upstart composer with electronic grooves as vibrant as the colorful shields he wears. "Live performance and music in general these days seems to be about the celebrity of it -- something I'm not into," SBTRKT told Pitchfork in a 2010 interview.
The year 2011 has been bounteous in terms of great records from established acts, and we’re only a little past the halfway mark. But when it comes to debut releases by lesser-knowns, it’s been a little sparse. So, the self-titled debut of lesser-known Young Turks beat prodigy SBTRKT is a welcome sight. Arguably one of the strongest debuts of the year, the album is tough to classify.
Starting out with chunky, retro-leaning 2-step workouts like "2020" and "Laika," SBTRKT established himself as someone who could mince old styles into complex pastiches that somehow fit into the futurist dialogue of bass music But when he was scooped up by prominent indie Young Turks, it seemed like something changed: a track like "Look At Stars" had all the melodic brilliance of SBTRKT's best work but the 2-step references were replaced by a cleaner, more modern palette of clean lines, contoured chord progressions and midtempo structures. By and large, that's the sound we get on SBTRKT's eponymous debut album. There's only a trace of the garage aesthetic that used to define his work, and while there's still a definite skip here it's a post-genre apparatus rather than a continuum-referencing device.
If you happen to be hosting a cocktail party with guests ranging from in-laws to pretentious urban DJs, SBTRKT just made creating a playlist for your party that much easier. The dubstep producer, also known as Aaron Jerome, presents a suave collection that appeals to many without sounding too contrived. If you’re craving an artistic upheaval, this album isn’t for you.
Dubstep may be nearing a saturation point, but there’s no shortage of bright young artists looking ahead to chart new courses for the subgenre. James Blake, Katy B, and Mount Kimbie have each struck their own idiosyncratic balance between the style’s avant and commercial leanings, admittedly sacrificing some of its distinctiveness, but in doing so proving that dubstep, like trip-hop before it, will be a part of pop music’s DNA long after its hipster cache has declined. Still, it’s SBTRKT (né Aaron Jerome) and the like-minded Joker who give me the most confidence in dubstep’s long-term contribution to dance music.
It would be fair to say that for dance music, 2011 is the year that brought back the art of “glitch”. From the unfriendly drones of Sound of 2011 high-flyers James Blake and Jamie Woon, to the further influence of dubstep on unsuspecting chart music both sides of the Atlantic, it’s no secret that this year, to slow down the tempo, dim the lights and confuse your listeners is the way to go. And as with a lot of this years UK dance releases, such as the classy debuts of Katy B and Jamie Woon, SBTRKT has one eye on the commercial dance scene and one on the underground.
Aaron Jerome’s lovely debut is just nocturnal, grubbily narcotic and bass-laden enough for the club, but it’s also too pillow-soft and woozy for it at the same time. Which begs the question: why the crazy, I’m-off-me-rocker-me tribal mask, Aaron? There’s not one track here that will cause any brains to haemorrhage, nor are there any ecstatic and weird enough to awaken any spirits.What these tracks are, though, are lovingly programmed, laser-dappled, preening – thanks to Sampha’s buttery soul voice – and glossy reduxes of late-’90s two-step and twitchy post-house that should be filed next to [a]James Blake[/a] and [a]Jamie Woon[/a].Chris ParkinOrder a copy of SBTRKT’s ‘SBTRKT’ from Amazon .
SBTRKT spent much of the last decade working under his real name, Aaron Jerome, experimenting with chillout and trip-hop. Since adopting a moniker (and a mask, for public appearances) he's released a handful of EPs that jump-start house tempos with smashed-up dubstep rhythms and soulful vocals. His debut LP marks his most coherent effort yet, moving from glitchy opener Heatwave into downbeat garage on Hold On and choppy synths on the euphoric Sanctuary.
What we have here is the promise of this decade’s Timbaland. Natalie Shaw 2011 SBTRKT made his name hiding behind a mask, remixing the likes of M.I.A., Basement Jaxx and Modeselektor. And here, he’s kept the veneer while doing somewhat of a showy back-flip – by bringing in an A-grade line-up of guest vocalists, he’s given his own music the stage and produced a debut album almost unbelievably bursting with ground-zero moments, unexpected side-turns and slinky promises.