Rewind to 2011. SBTRKT dropped his self-named debut album and scaled to success with distinctive singles “Wildfire,” featuring Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, and “Hold On,” featuring soulful vocalist Sampha. The album boomed with its tasteful balance of nimble rhythms and avant-garde vocalists, pushing Aaron Jerome into the mainstream spotlight for how he frames catchy, clear directions in intricate arrangements.
In Wonder Where We Land, SBTRKT’s sophomore album, which features Ezra Koenig, A$AP Ferg and Warpaint, the chemistry among SBTRKT and his collaborators doesn’t quite have the same magic as it used to. Although it features even more vocalists that are even more renowned, the new album sounds a lot like a flat, experimental byproduct of the first, crawling with excessive use of bass, terrifying, rainforest-esque atmospherics and, at times, distracting use of synthesizers.
Objectively speaking, however, this album is art, and it sparkles in that it is different —
although whether it’s wholly enjoyable is another story. It runs on an eclectic blend of soul, two-step and house, and its constituents all echo a theme comparable to the erraticism and obscurity of outer space. This makes us think, “Yes, maybe we are supposed to feel kidnapped inside of a UFO steered by a producer in a ceremonial mask.”
But even with this forgivingly in mind, the album struggles with some commitment issues. Before we can actually enjoy its thrilling bits of ear candy — which very well do exist — we retract because SBTRKT flips the switch with uglier and out-of-place “experimental” tones. In “Spaced Out,” featuring Boogie, he introduces questionable, out-of-pitch trumpet notes, and the second half of “Higher,” featuring Raury, sounds like a direct audio translation of impending doom.
The few gems, “Osea,” “Look Away” and “Temporary View,” which feature Koreless, Caroline Polachek and Sampha, respectively, employ rich layers of sounds and vocal manipulations that we would expect from an evolving SBTRKT. But these successes are drowned out by the more impressionable tracks “Voices in My Head,” ft. A$AP Ferg, and “NEW DORP. NEW YORK,” ft. Ezra Koenig, both of which are unsettling, slightly demonic and subpar for their A-list collaborators. Ferg, though commendably experimenting with lyrical depth, sounds comically whiny as he sings of his father’s passing, while Koenig sings about who knows what.
SBTRKT’s latest album strays from the distinctive style that has led the producer to this point in an attempt at reaching higher ground. Dominated by sluggish bass and dismal instrumentals, Wonder Where We Land makes us wonder exactly that — where this is going and when it’s going to end.