Album Review: SBTRKT | Wonder Where We Land

Though Skrillex and Flux Pavilion may be selling out arenas around the world, we are living in a post-dubstep world. The rise in popularity of heavy bass drops and candy-painted EDM festivals in the United States over the past half-decade has unintentionally spawned a counter-culture of sorts across the Atlantic. With the massive success of UK duo Disclosure, the London dance scene is back on the map and artists such as SBTRKT and Burial are seeing similar results despite remaining frustratingly enigmatic. Wonder Where We Land may be the most exhibited we’ve seen the masked UK producer. After 2011’s self-titled grimy, haunting assortment of underground club tracks, SBTRKT has returned with a bouncy, jazzy take on his signature sound.

Although it features an eclectic list of featuring artists, Wonder Where We Land starts off right where SBTRKT left off. Long time collaborator Sampha hops on the title track’s very minimal beat with his breathy delivery, getting lost in the keys and synth lines that build steadily throughout. “Lantern” closely resembles SBTRKT’s Transitions EP series that released earlier this year, with its fast paced loop sharply interjected with a clash of instruments. It isn’t until “Higher,” which features the currently trending Raury, that we see the first departure from SBTRKT. The production here fits Raury perfectly as trap snares fire off behind his equally quick delivery. The overall pace and rhythm isn’t in line with SBTRKT’s usual work, but the feature overrides any possible reservations.

After a brief interlude the album continues to evolve with the track “Look Away.” Sharp off-kilter high notes somehow find a rhythm with the rest of the piano arrangement while Caroline Polachek’s ethereal voice rises over the chaos. “Osea” is the first of the very few speed bumps Wonder Where We Land hits, with its chords being strung out a tad too long despite its short run time. SBTRKT has also decided to break character again here, cranking up the volume to an annoying effect. Perhaps self aware of this, “Temporary View” is placed after to calm things down. Using an instrumental from the previously mentioned Transitions (there titled as “Resolute), SBTRKT graces us with the most successful use of his signature styles, once again featuring Sampha. The two prove to be one of the best duos in the genre – SBTRKT’s skills on a drum kit are as impressive as Sampha’s ability to beautifully convey deep emotion song after song.

From here on out Wonder Where We Land becomes an aptly named title. The completely off-the-wall “New Dorp. New York” is immensely catchy. Ezra Koenig does a great job of matching the jazzy bass line with his quick and stylish delivery. The drums that bounce around towards the back half are quite possibly the highlight of the album. An easy-going track follows that finds SBTRKT on cruise control. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it sticks out as a weaker moment right when the album is climaxing. It also bears close resemblance to the track immediately after, “Problem Solved,” which is without a doubt more enjoyable. The unique melody brings an addictive quality and Jessie Ware’s performance is expectedly spot on.

With the album reaching a close SBTRKT once again brings his running mate in for a final experimental hurrah. “If It Happens” serves more or less as an intro to “Gon Stay,” which features a wild opening and infectious bass line. The song never stays in the same groove in between Sampha’s hooks and vocal loops, hopping around from idea to idea. If it weren’t for the album’s closer this track could be considered as the completion of SBTRKT’s transition predicted by his previous EP. However, after a passable Denai Moore feature, it is the most unlikely guest on Wonder Where We Land’s track list that comes through in a big way. “Voices In My Head” brings A$AP Ferg, fresh off 2013’s sleeper Trap Lord, into the electronic music scene. Versatile as ever, Ferg uses his unique voice to deliver troubled bars in a flow that starts off intentionally sloppy, until it tightens up at the drop of a dime only to turn to a goofy attempt at singing, heard previously on his tracks “Hood Pope” and “Cocaine Castle.” SBTRKT masterfully tailors the beat to Ferg’s skill set, never laying it on too thick while still giving it a backbone.

Wonder Where We Land strives to both completely unravel the box the music world had placed SBTRKT in as well as establish a potential launching point for his music going forward. Given that the instrumental tracks (high points on his self-titled project) are some of the weaker moments here, it may not be absurd to think the reclusive producer has finally become comfortable working with high profile artists. With the UK underground dance scene once again emerging in the mainstream, SBTRKT has an even bigger audience than the internet geeks who witnessed his initial outing. As Transitions was, in hindsight, so spot-on with its title, so too is Wonder Where We Land. The myriad of seemingly unconnected singles aren’t united with any common theme here as it turns out. Instead the listener is begged the question – both while listening to the album, and upon completion – where can it go from here? Wherever that may be, at least we can count on a consistent, rising talent to take us there.

8.7

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