Album Review: “SBTRKT” by SBTRKT
Audio: “Something Goes Right (Feat. Sampha)”
Audio: “Pharaohs (Feat. Roses Gabor)”
I really hate using the term “dubstep”. I feel as though many people—especially in the United States—have this skewed, almost twisted perception of the ever-evolving genre. With brainless artists like Skrillex putting shit on a plate and serving it to idiots, current interpretations of dubstep have become more inaccurate, more ignorant. But here’s SBTRKT (pronounced ‘subtract’), a London-based producer who, before this, was mostly known for his Step In Shadows EP and remixes of big names like M.I.A. and Basement Jaxx. Now SBTRKT, who uses elements of grime, UK garage, dub, two-step, and house, has finally released his debut self-titled LP. And by golly, it’s a good one.
The album often finds itself creating inescapably addicting tracks, much in thanks to SBTRKT’s mesmerizing and varying instrumentation. The opener, “Heatwave”, is a reverberating and circling track that builds anticipation and gets the figurative juices flowing. It’s followed by “Hold On”, where SBTRKT slows the tempo in favor of a more bass-driven track. Another strong point of this album is its reflection of SBTRKT’s ability to effortlessly move all over the genre map. On the tremendous track “Wild Fire”, SBTRKT’s sexy production features 90’s-esque two-step and wobbles that couple well with Yukimi Nagano’s (of Little Dragon) sultry vocals. On “Right Thing To Do”, which features vocalist Jessie Ware, he further expands the map of his sound by including Chicago-style House elements. At his best, SBTRKT manipulates sound to incredible levels of what I can only describe as pure vibe. He gets there on tracks like “Sanctuary”, “Pharaohs”, and “Ready Set Loop”, where the ability to resist dancing becomes nearly impossible. With every pulsating press of the synthesizer and every turn of the pitch knob, SBTRKT creates a delicately manufactured storm of melody.
The biggest treat in this album, however, is the combination of SBTRKT’s production and guest vocalist Sampha’s singing. Both are powerful and enticing in their own manner, but together, they make this debut undoubtedly cohesive. These two have previously worked alongside each other on SBTRKT’s Step In Shadows, but their partnership has reached its full potential on this album. Sampha, who sounds a hell of a lot like James Blake, fits perfectly in SBTRKT’s production scheme. On the album highlight “Something Goes Right”, SBTRKT creates a seemingly ever-growing landscape that features light keyboard touches that are enveloped by slithering drum patterns and organs. On top of it, Sampha painfully, but alluringly laments, “I was always hurt/ And I’ve been feeling like this/ Most/ Most of my life/ I’ve been feeling like/ Things ain’t gonna change.”
SBTRKT is more than what it seems at the surface level. Externally, this album is a dance-inspiring collection of tracks. But internally, SBTRKT and guests wonderfully fill the nooks and crannies that always seem to get overlooked. The great thing about the way this album moves from sub-genre to sub-genre is simply how fluid it is. You’ll be searching for hours to find any moments that seem even remotely out of sync with the rest of the album. Each track features a certain amount of distinctiveness, but never does its individuality get in the way of cohesion. Though the last track is a bit forgettable, SBTRKT’s debut full-length flashes intense moments of complexity and simplicity. SBTRKT, through patience and practice, is able to intertwine intricacy and straightforwardness into an outstanding collage of sound.