Release Date: Oct 7, 2014
Record label: XL Recordings
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
To say that Wonder Where We Land is highly anticipated is an understatement, considering SBTRKT’s 2011 self-titled debut album might be the most influential release of the last five years. SBTRKT laid down a foundation for fusion electronica that paved the way for acts like Disclosure, London Grammar, FKA Twigs and countless others to fluidly advance the electro soul, electro R&B and dubstep movements. Simply put, none of those acts could’ve been as well-received without SBTRKT warming up our ears for what was to come.
Aaron Jerome’s post-dubstep project no longer relies heavily on anonymity. Adopting the seemingly-unpronounceable moniker SBTRKT ('subtract', for anyone who hasn’t quite got it yet) and donning a Native American inspired mask for both promo shots and live shows, the XL-signed Londoner appeared to be intent on deflecting the brunt of the attention that his first recordings – 2010 EPs 2020 and Step In Shadows, before the excellent self-titled full-length debut the following year – received onto the moniker; a tactic that enjoyed a great rate of success. Indeed, if you presented an unmasked Jerome to your typically sketched-out, Red Stripe-swigging Boiler Room aficionado, they’d likely have a hard time placing him: 'Didn’t I see you do a DJ set at Fabric?' But with SBTRKT’s underground success having earned the producer frontrunner status in the British electronic scene, Jerome’s had to come out of the shadows somewhat in order to maintain the heady momentum that’s been generated.
On his 2011 debut, self-titled LP, SBTRKT, a.k.a. London producer Aaron Jerome, perfected the sound he'd been working toward with his 2020 EP, employing post-dubstep patter and up and coming vocalist Sampha to convey the kind of upbeat London melancholy that James Blake simultaneously perfected. It felt like something of an endpoint — where was SBTRKT to go from there?As it turns out, anywhere.
Individuality goes a long way in the music industry, something SBTRKT (aka Aaron Jerome) found out when he emerged onto the underground dance scene in 2009. His addictive house/electro/dubstep fusion and identity-hiding collection of African tribal facemasks garnered him something of a reputation in the independent music world, further enhanced by a series of stunning collaborations on his self-titled 2011 debut LP with the likes of Sampha and Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano. The eagerly awaited album number two, Wonder Where We Land, brings more inspired guest appearances as diverse as A$AP Ferg, Jessie Ware, and Ezra Koenig, while the production has its eyes set firmly on the horizon with truly innovative beats.
Second time around, London producer SBTRKT’s dizzying electronic soundscapes are fleshed out by all sorts of voices: returnees Sampha and Jessie Ware, plus Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend (on the terrific retro funk of New Dorp. New York), Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek (on the jazzy, post-dubstep Look Away) and newcomer Raury (on the excellent Higher). But such is SBTRKT’s authorship that these diverse tracks all come with his imprimatur, and a unifying sense of unease.
With more guest appearances than Paris Hilton’s paid-appearance party schedule in an average summer, SBTRKT’s debut self-titled album was responsible for establishing important new names like Sampha, Jessie Ware, Little Dragon, and Aaron Jerome himself, in the music world. For people of a certain age, it’s a hugely nostalgic album, too; one that brings back memories of dancing to ‘Wildfire’ in packed out, sweaty, beer-stinking tents at festivals for the first time. Aaron Jerome is something of a maestro when it comes to sampling different genres.
In 1936, Mexican artist Pedro Linares was bedridden with a serious illness. As he slept, he dreamt of deformed creatures – a donkey with butterfly wings, a cockerel with antlers and a koala with a boa constrictor’s tail. His hallucinations inspired him to make colourful, contorted sculptures that became known as alebrijes. A disconcerting image inspired by Linares’ beasts sits on the sleeve of Aaron Jerome’s second album as SBTRKT.The muse behind ‘Wonder Where We Land”s artwork is no surprise.
SBTRKT’s self-titled debut was one of the most intriguing albums to emerge from the UK’s electronic music scene in 2011. Coming out of the gate with such a fully formed sound, as mastermind Aaron Jerome did, can either be a sign of big things in the future or of a coming struggle to advance past a celebrated debut. One of the reasons SBTRKT hit so hard was because it was overwhelmingly SBTRKT’s album.
Some people are insanely good with music production software, and although he may try to hide behind various tribal masks, Aaron Jerome has been exposed as one of them. On his 2011 debut LP as SBTRKT, he composed dark, grimy post-dubstep arrangements and enlisted a cadre of collaborators to stamp a unique imprint on each. The album was successful enough to catapult Jerome to prominence as a producer toeing the line between pop and experimentalism, but most of the buzz resonated around a few specific cuts that were absolute gems.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The menacing bass that opens 'NEW DORP. NEW YORK' was more than a little shocking when SBTRKT revealed the track online back in July. The London-based producer had never released anything quite like it and arriving, as it did, alongside the announcement of his sophomore record, it signalled an interesting change direction.
Complain that SBTRKT's sophomore effort wanders too much -- in search of what it means to be "post-dubstep" -- and it's an argument worth putting up for debate. The London producer's second album jumps genres with abandon and nothing sorts itself sensibly until after a couple listens, plus the one- or two-note interludes feel like disingenuous bridges throw up at the last minute. The album sorts itself after a handful of listens, or just a couple for those who adore the producer's musical palette (think of the dark space between the underground Burial and the more aboveground Trentemøller), but the big win for SBTRKT is that these songs are worth latching onto, including the title track where R&B vocalist Sampha declares "impermanence is so permanently with me," thus stating the album's flights-of-fancy theme.
“Art is not a handicraft…it is the transmission of a feeling experienced by an artist.” There’s a hell of a cultural distance between Leo Tolstoy and Aaron Jerome, but this is one statement that seems to hold true either side of the divide. Whether it’s Tolstoy’s weighty prose on love, life and everything in between, or Jerome’s fluorescent, post-dubstep wonderings; at the heart of both endeavours is the communication of raw, ineffable emotion. With SBTRKT’s self-titled debut, he succeeded in crafting a starkly coherent self-portrait of shadowy, melancholic unease.
SBTRKT's early releases were futuristic takes on British two-step garage and bass music, but the masked U.K. producer has moved farther away from those influences with each record. On his second full-length, he twists the bright synths and catchy vocals of his past work into hip-hop: A$AP Ferg contributes a manic, drug-fueled tale to ''Voices in My Head,'' and the instrumental ''Lantern'' is psychedelic trip-hop.
High-concept collaborative albums rarely work. Drawing consistency out of a roster of totally dissimilar musicians is the task of an experienced artistic director, someone who can take on a role of leadership and find some abstract harmony with a vast range of artistic skills and temperaments. It isn’t the task of a young producer like SBTRKT, who only has one album and an assortment of remixes and EPs under his belt that, while joint efforts, are also appropriately single-minded and reserved.
Now that U.K. bass music has hit a saturation point, artists the Internet hastily labeled with the “post-dubstep” tag back in 2010 have been able to escape the imaginary restraints of their so-called scene. For James Blake, this meant transforming into the electro Jeff Buckley; for Burial, finally being listened to by people other than depressed British raver kids; and for Aaron Jerome and his latest album as SBTRKT, Wonder Where We Land, it means trading in Drake-on-ecstasy club bangers for bugged-out trip-hop productions occasionally interrupted by misguided attempts at R&B slow-burners.
If you want to get ahead, get a mask. That seems to be the motto in the EDM community right now, with various mysteriously masked figures following in the footsteps of the likes of Daft Punk and deadmau5. A couple of years ago, Aaron Jerome and his collection of Native American ceremonial masks proved the benefits of anonymity when his debut album under the name of SBTRKT opened the door to a whole new wave of skittery, melancholic dance music.
By wearing vanilla versions of ceremonial masks to make standing behind a laptop infinitesimally less boring, and playing tastefully edgy hip-hop beats, the SBTRKT project, led by Aaron Jerome, has crossed over, and earned star collaborators for album two. His beats are mostly a cautious version of Flying Lotus’s pimp roll across the stars, or an overstuffed take on James Blake’s emo-jazz arrangements, and work best when they give MCs space to do the heavy lifting: A$AP Ferg is blithe and funny, while Raury’s endurance flow is impeccably weighted. But SBTRKT still doesn’t gel with songwriting.
It may not have maintained the low-key genre-fusing mystique that it had back in 2011, but SBTRKT's highly enjoyable nexus of R&B, bass music, house, and dubstep on his self-titled debut still sounds as sleekly well-balanced as it did four years back. The music's appeal hasn't changed, but what it means has, at least where career-arc-plotting curiosity is concerned. Its release saw Aaron Jerome move from across-the-board multigenre remixer (Basement Jaxx's "Scars"; M.I.A.'s "XXXO"; Mark Ronson's "Bang Bang Bang") to someone wielding a consolidated, self-contained signature sound, which gave his future endeavors a lot of promise.
Aaron Jerome's 2011 self-titled album made him a certified big deal—the kind of artist who crosses over into the pop realm, headlines festivals and sells out shows around the world. And whatever you thought of his turn towards bubbly, vocal-led work, you can't deny that the masked Englishman achieved it all on his own terms. But three years is a long time to coast on one LP, and now he re-emerges with Wonder Where We Land, the sequel to his self-titled effort.
opinion byAUSTIN REED The cover art to SBTRKT’s sophomore full-length Wonder Where We Land features the semi-anonymous producer’s signature African mask outfitting what I can only assume is…I don’t know…a black lab? Maybe a jungle cat? What color are ocelots? Whatever. The point is: This ambiguous, African-tribal-mask-toting Dr. Seuss animal is resting submissively in the palm of a hand—a streamlined, textureless, iridescent blue hand.