“Impermanence, it’s permanently with me,” sings Sampha to SBTRKT’s deeply artistic use of electronic effects. This line hits home to me, as I had thought of a similar phrase as I stood looking out at the ocean and contemplating life (haha?) this summer. Once again, I felt a deep connection with this music.
Known for his beautiful collaborations, Aaron Jerome of SBTRKT’s sound can be described as “post-dubstep, indie pop, electronic” (Wikipedia). I get it, but there’s more. SBTRKT is beyond a genre. He is so highly experimental, yet still so highly accessible to listeners that it’s difficult to describe to someone. Often I’ve found myself saying to friends who haven’t heard, “just go look it up.” Then I have to explain the spelling. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (otherwise known as “High School”), I myself was very confused by the name. I’d heard it first in my freshman sculpture class, and every time I asked and tried to look it up I came up with nothing. Finally, upon taking a peek at my teacher’s computer, I figured it out—that great moment that many of us have when we come to such an obvious yet confusing realization (in this case, that “Subtract” is in fact “SBTRKT”).
My first thought was, Weird. My subsequent thought was, Awesome.
SBTRKT does a good job at being anonymous. Often hiding behind Sampha’s angelic voice or some other lovely artist collaborator, Jerome plays music that ranges from tribal to electronic to mystical to all of the above. His new and second album, Wonder Where We Land, came out on Oct. 7 via the Young Turks label.
Composed of 21 songs, Wonder Where We Land feels like an even more varied collection than his self-titled album. The transition between songs feels somewhat choppier, but in a thematic way that works. The album is playful and pushes more for a hip-hop feel; “NEW DORP. NEW YORK.” with Ezra Koenig is by far the most “fun,” and I couldn’t help but bob my head while listening to it’s exceedingly funky and strange beats. “Higher” with Raury and “Look Away” with Caroline Polachek are more haunting, the latter giving me an electronic-ized version of the feeling I get when I listen to Cat Power or Fiona Apple. Raury’s soft lyricism to SBTRKT’s ethereal sound portrays aggressive thoughts against a velvety background, the contrast of which adds to the effectiveness of the song. “Voices In My Head” with A$AP Ferg and Warpaint was similarly dark and intriguing, and it definitely put more of an emphasis on the voices than SBTRKT’s trademark electronic effects for the majority of the song. I almost felt like I lost Jerome’s sound with a few of the songs like this; perhaps this is his push for anonymity at its finest?
Adding to the variety of the mix, “Spaced Out” with Boogie was a sexy addition to the album, and the sounds reminded me of a Tyler the Creator song minus all of the violence. And anger. Plus sexier (sorry, Tyler… love you). “Temporary View” sounds like more of a traditional piece by SBTRKT, but every artist has a favorite comfort food. This sound is like Jerome’s rainy day grilled cheese. When I heard “Osea,” I couldn’t help but feel like MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular had somehow been inspired by SBTRKT’s SBTRKT. However, that’s chronologically impossible… perhaps MGMT has a time machine we don’t know about?
“If It Happens” with Sampha had some lyrics that really hit home for me (per usual). “Would I lie to myself just to be close to somebody else? Should we fake this? I don’t know. Ah-“ and then the singer is cut off mid-word at the end of the song as if somebody or something else made the decision for him. The punishment for indecisiveness, perhaps—a battle I think many of us are constantly fighting, romantically or otherwise. If you let a problem fester and become entrenched with conflict and resentment, the problem will find a solution on its own and have the likely potential to hurt you more.
I could not help but see this album as having a strongly distinctive aesthetic. I viewed it as an art piece of sorts, a gallery compilation of dynamic work inclusive of many unique elements (some old, some new, some tried-and-true). The song-to-song flow is somewhat abrupt and choppy at times, but it seems to work. The themes flow like a multimedia collage, and it’s extremely interesting to listen to. If you must listen to only one song first, I suggest “Higher” featuring the voice of Raury—I find myself going back to this one the most.