SBTRKT: ‘Wonder Where We Land’

Wonder_Where_We_Land

“‘Wonder Where We Land’ builds on the production ideas of 2014’s Transitions EP and fleshes them out with vocalists and sharp-edged lyricism.”

‘Wonder Where We Land’ has a long list of collaborators. Regular SBTRKT vocalist Sampha, newcomer Raury, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek, fellow Young Turks signee Koreless, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, singer Jessie Ware, up-and-comer Denai Moore, and rapper A$AP FERG all make it onto the 40-minute eclectic cut from London’s most enigmatic producer.

All of this makes for a very different album than 2011’s ‘SBTRKT,’ and at times ‘Wonder Where We Land’ doesn’t seem to form a cohesive whole. Short, progressive interludes “Day 1” and “Day 5” introduce the dance-ready post-dubstep of “Lantern” and interpose the trap stoner-anthem “Higher” and the disjointed trip-hop of “Look Away.” A more familiar SBTRKT dominates the slow-burning title track, and “Temporary View,” and the jazzy, poppy “NEW DORP. NEW YORK” is an album highlight.

Perhaps what this points to is Aaron Jerome’s response to the single-dominated world of electronic music. He builds on the production ideas of 2014’s Transitions EP and fleshes them out with vocalists and sharp-edged lyricism. But the songs are just that: singles. There isn’t a complete sense of the immersive album experience with which ‘Wonder Where We Land’ wants to entreat us. The electronic interludes don’t stand up on their own, and the SBTRKT moniker becomes that of a producer: the beats behind the songs rather than the songs themselves.

This all changes when you see SBTRKT live. Field Day 2014: London’s most left-field electronic music festival. A giant inflated panther-like creature looms over the foggy stage, brushing against the tarpaulin ceiling of the massive packed tent and threatening to knock over the instruments ornately arranged on stage with one swipe of its man-sized paw. The air smells of cigarette smoke sweetened by designer drugs, and the ground is littered with nitrous canisters. Aaron Jerome and co. take to the stage, adorned in emblematic tribal masks.

Seeing SBTRKT live is a fully immersive experience. The songs are fleshed out with a five-piece band and guest vocalists have their work cut out for them if they want to command the stage. Sampha seems right in his comfort zone and has the crowd hyped even for new track “Temporary View,” and joining in on the lyrics for cuts from 2011’s ‘SBTRKT.’ 19-year old Denai Moore seems more tentative and struggles to hold the crowd on new song “The Light,” partly because she herself is new to the big stage, having yet to put out her debut. But where SBTRKT commands the most live is on the dancier instrumental tracks that become lost on the album, such as “Lantern,” or the building, vocal-sampled “Everybody Knows.”

SBTRKT works best when given our full attention, and on ‘Wonder Where We Land,’ the focus is on the names it champions, like A$AP FERG on the cool, laid-back “Voices In My Head.” The gorgeous electronic production becomes the background, and the moments when it stands alone feel like interludes. Rather than an immersive listening experience, ‘Wonder Where We Land’ is a collaborative project, which showcases Aaron Jerome’s skillful production but doesn’t really show the full extent of what he can do. For that, you’ll have to see him live.

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