sbtrkt

On reflection, it’s probably fair to say that SBTRKT came out of nowhere when he dropped his self-titled debut back in 2011. Roughly a year earlier, when I saw him open for Holy Fuck in front of a half-full (to be generous) room, there was no real suggestion that the fairly unremarkable dubstep set that he delivered would have been refined and reshuffled to such a degree that he would deliver the genre’s outstanding album of 2011. Even his now-iconic mask looked a bit silly that night, its enigmatic quality stripped away by the sunlight beaming through the venue’s skylight. Now, of course, it’s synonymous with the forward-thinking brand of electronica that defined that breakthrough LP.

What’s most striking about this follow-up, then, is the fact that SBTRKT – or Aaron Jerome – hasn’t really strayed enormously from the formula that worked so well for him last time. Given the rapturous critical acclaim he’s received – as well as the not-unimpressive commercial response he was afforded – Jerome would surely have had no end of offers in terms of potential collaborations, but he’s largely stuck with the same supporting cast from ‘SBTRKT’. Jessie Ware, now one of the genre’s stars in her own right, delivers another superb turn on the gorgeously mellow ‘Problem Solved’, whilst Sampha – for all intent and purpose Jerome’s right-hand man – is again on hand to lend his silky tones to a handful of songs, pick of the bunch being the title track, on which he croons over a choppy beat and an increasingly diffuse instrumental backdrop.

Elsewhere, Jerome has included a couple of new hookups with mixed results. Caroline Polachek of Chairlift provides a neat turn on ‘Look Away’, although it’s really Jerome himself who steals the show on that track, with an eccentric, minimalist backdrop blending juddering percussion with snatches of piano and dramatic, screeching synth. ‘NEW DORP. NEW YORK’, meanwhile, features Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, but flounders after a promising start when he suddenly descends into spoken word; it doesn’t help that the instrumental on the song is at once one of the album’s messiest and least interesting.

The album’s closer, ‘Voices in My Head’, serves as a stirring reminder of how good Jerome can be when he reaches full flight – sonically ominous despite using little more than an off-kilter beat and a rudimentary piano loop hidden deep in the mix, it’s bolstered by the appearance of A$AP Ferg, who’s unusually stunted style of delivery fits the song’s unorthodox time signature neatly; he comes across like Ol’ Dirty Bastard on tranquilisers, and that’s precisely what the track needs. It’s on the dark, foreboding tracks like these – the superb link-up with Koreless, ‘Osea’, is another case in point – that Jerome’s skill and intelligence really come to the fore.

That taken into account, ‘Wonder Where We Land’ is kind of a muddled effort overall. There’s plenty of fine individual moments, but no real cohesiveness to the sound of the piece as a whole. It’s as if Jerome was caught in two minds as to which direction to move in after the success of album number one; there’s little of the authority and confidence with which he pulled off that album on display here.

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