Genuine anonymity is hard-won in today’s always-on world, driven as it is by an unstinting churn of self-promotion and oversharing, which makes SBTRKT’s decision to jettison his ahead of this long-awaited return all the more beguiling, like watching somebody eschew a place in the witness protection programme. If you’re able to make your art from the shadows, unencumbered by the cross-examination of personality that comes with the spotlight, why wouldn’t you? Especially given, as Frank Ocean continues to prove, that enigma can prove a potent promotional tool in and of itself.
Here’s the thing; Aaron Jerome, to give him the birth name he’s now keen to put out there, doesn’t want to swerve the limelight any longer, reasoning that binning the stage alias and the mask that became his signature will allow him to be recognised for the creative force of nature he is, rather than unfairly dismissed as a sideman or remixer. That does beg the question of quite why The Rat Road, his first full-length proper in nine years, is as heavy on collaborations as it is; Jerome could have chosen instead to place this electronic craftsmanship front and centre.
In practice, though, he does; prominent vocal turns by the likes of Leilah, Toro y Moi and his old running buddy Sampha make sense set against The Rat Road’s uneasy blend of maximalist chaos one minute (‘Days Go By’, ’L.F.O.’), and hazy atmospherics the next (‘Forward’, ‘Demons’). Other guest turns, by the likes of Anna of the North and D Double E, are used as quick-fire hinges connecting one suite of this sprawling 22-track effort to the next; unlike 2014’s Wonder Where We Land, which was so diffuse as to lack cohesion, there’s no doubt as to whose voice is the creative constant on The Rat Road. It’s Jerome’s, and so, in that respect, mission accomplished.