San Francisco – UK producer Aaron Jerome aka SBTRKT is no stranger to guarded epiphany. His eponymous 2011 debut had audiences swimming in a sea of mystery, boasting Burial-esque mystique as he played live sets on his first tour, hidden behind the tribal mask that embodied the cover art of his first record. Most of SBTRKT’s songs were carried by then-unknown vocalist/producer Sampha’s ethereal vocals, with a few tracks emphasized by the burgeoning talents of chanteuse Jessie Ware and Little Dragon mastermind Yukimi Nagano, catapulting their respective careers into unstoppable forward propulsion with their featured participation.
Now, SBTRKT is back. After releasing a collection of instrumental pieces known as his Transitions sessions, he has returned with a proper follow-up to his debut LP, and boy, is it a doozy.
Similar to SBTRKT, the producer has once again tapped Sampha as key vocalist and holy messenger on a number of tracks for Wonder Where We Land—as well as Ms. Ware—yet this time around he has opened himself up to a slew of willing alternative collaborators, including Vampire Weekend’s lead vocalist Ezra Koenig and rapper A$AP Rocky, as well as new talent that includes vocalists Caroline Polachek and Denai Moore.
Wonder Where We Land definitely reads like a sophomore LP, in the same effect that SBTRKT read like a debut. The added effort in producing something new and original is all there, yet it seems less drastic, less deliberately awe-inspiring than its predecessor. This in no means dignifies any slack in effort; rather its diligence is well noted, well balanced and strikingly indifferent to the pressure one often feels when putting forth a second LP. This is not to say that this record was made in haste, quite the contrary: Jerome’s patience and perseverance are rewarded within and echoed throughout the delicate care put into this album.
At a glance, Wonder Where We Land seems longer and more thought out than its predecessor, though at the same time, it is apparent that SBTRKT has stayed true to his infectious idiosyncrasies, even though they are addressed in a much different manner. With Wonder Where We Land, the first glaring departure is that Jerome has allowed himself more room to produce and exhibit more tracks on which he acts alone, stretching his proverbial sea legs with an array of pieces that feature his talent as a instrumental producer—much like his Transitions series—including the psychotropic “Lantern” and “Everybody Knows.” His musical talents shine through many of the tracks that feature other artists, dominating the soundscape in “Look Away” (featuring Polachek) and “Osea” (featuring Koreless).
Jerome’s willingness to explore new horizons—especially when it comes to American artists—is evident in tracks like “Higher” (featuring Atlanta-based musician Raury) and “NEW DORP. NEW YORK,” which uses the talents of Vampire Weekend’s Koenig in SBTRKT’s first almost totally lyrically driven composition to date (also the album’s lead single). When I first heard “NEW DORP. NEW YORK”, I was almost completely unaware I was listening to a SBTRKT song—and at first, I wasn’t the biggest fan—but after re-examining the track time and time again, I recognize it as a giant step forward for the producer, as he allowed himself to let a featured artist take center stage while at the same time providing illustrious beats that are far outside his comfort zone.
Many of the tracks on Wonder Where We Land feature longtime cohort/collaborator and fellow Brit Sampha, a velvet-voiced producer who acts as SBTRKT’s main vocalist throughout his two LPs. Sampha has worked with a number of artists, even going so far as to produce FKA Twigs’ song “Numbers” for her debut album LP1, though, still, his voice is all but synonymous with SBTRKT. Much like SBTRKT’s 2011 debut, he carries most of the producer’s vocalized instrumentation, highlighted on tracks like “Temporary View”—one of the album’s early singles—as well as the inviting title track (placed at #2 on the album’s track list) and the jarring “Gon Stay.” He also lends his voice to the surprising, arresting acoustic beauty of “If It Happens,” floating his saccharin, honey vocal stylings over a carefully constructed display of decorative piano that vanishes as quickly as it appears.
Other former collaborators appear on the album too, such as Jessie Ware, whose contribution to SBTRKT’s “Right Thing To Do” helped catapult her now blossoming career into fruition. This time around she is featured on a track called “Problem Solved,” an equally artistic yet dramatically understated companion to the former, as she maintains a melancholy uncertainty that wavers amongst only handful of melodic tones suspended over a few artfully selected diminished chord structures that are briefly interrupted by SBTRKT’s signature fleeting attacks that stick around only just long enough to punctuate the piece without overpowering it, leaving in their wake briskly fading shadows of synthesized tones that linger like the imprints left behind on a sun gazer’s eyelids as he tries to chase them across the horizon.
SBTRKT closes Wonder Where We Land with “Voices in My Head,” his first truly hip-hop-infused track, featuring the talents of A$AP Rocky as well as the all-female band Warpaint, painting a profound portrait through rap, electronica, and characteristically appropriate alt-rock that only Aaron Jerome is capable of conjuring.
Wonder Where We Land is decades before its time. Instead of producing a tired, emulated LP that recycles old sounds in an effort to make them sound new, SBTRKT has effortlessly shuffled his prominent influences, his ambitions, and his respect for his fellow musicians into a collection of cohesive and inventive songs. Similar to fellow U.K. producer Flying Lotus—another artist I hold in very high regard due to his originality—Jerome has toyed with the almost formulaic notion that electronic music should be played rather than performed. Wonder Where We Land is a celebration of possibilities, and I, for one, can’t wait to join the party. (Click the LIVE tab of his website for Fall-Winter tour dates.)
Wonder Where We Land is available now in the U.K., and will be released in North America on Oct. 7 via Young Turks. You can stream the album here.