SBTRKT isn’t as mysterious a producer as he may seem at first sight, despite that distinctive decorative African mask. Behind the project, decisive in this thing called post-dubstep and post-garage, is Aaron Jerome, a producer who until recently was active on the broken beat scene, with an album out on BBE, “Time To Rearrange” (2007) - full of jazz arrangements, passionate for laidback tempos, almost apathetic, like coffee-table music. So it’s no surprise “SBTRKT” sounds the way it does: although it could seem like a step down tempo-wise from previous efforts on 12” like “Step In Shadows EP”, the two raw house cuts of “Ready Set Loop / Twice Bitten” and the aggressive dubstep of “2020” on Brainmath, this much-anticipated album on Young Turks could be perfectly understood as a return to his origins.
Indeed, if you feel SBTRKT abuses the mid-tempo, the vocal parts with a sweet soul passion of the mainstream, and that when he could go all garage, he doesn’t do it with enough energy, it’s because he’s already done that. However, you have to see things in perspective. SBTRKT never arrived on this scene holding a sign saying he was going to be the most underground producer on the block. Quite the contrary: he came with a sublime technique in the recording studio and a (pop) friendly approach to the sounds of the post-dubstep realm. Very quickly, he started using vocals like those of Sampha on his single on Ramp, or Jessie Ware’s on “Nervous”, his only release on Numbers. What he does on the album is practically reject his most experimental work and prolong that radio-friendly sound which, as we’ve seen with Katy B, can be successful and still maintain the respect of the underground.
The vocal parts are for the usual suspects (Sampha, his own private Robert Owens; Jessie Ware, balancing the styles with her sensual garage diva voice), plus new guests like Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon and the still fairly unknown Roses Gabor, who takes “Pharaohs” to a more American than British territory, reminiscent of Masters At Work and other deep house heroes. There are hardly any instrumentals (and the one we hear, we already knew: “Ready Set Loop”, with it seductive flute arabesque), so it’s only fair to acknowledge the central part the vocals play on this “SBTRKT”, an album that explores the possibility of recovering the underground essence of house of twenty years ago and gives it new life, with all the baggage from the era of 2-step and dubstep.
The album is bright, well-measured, maybe even too perfect because of the lack of rage, but that, too, I think is a good thing. It’s not the big masterpiece we dreamed about, but, along with Katy B’s album, it’s an effort, which, without selling out, will attract new audiences to the post-dubstep storm, which is always praiseworthy. Let’s admit it - in this war, apart from the infantry and cavalry, we also need bait. Claude T. Hill
“Wildfire ft. Little Dragon”