Monday 6 October 2014

SBTRKT - Wonder Where We Land

SBTRKT’s debut, self-titled album was a huge hit with the critics.  And rightly so.  Combining house, garage and post-dubstep dance in glitchy union, it not only heralded the unique sounds of a new dance master, it launched the careers of Jessie Ware and Sampha.  SBTRKT remains an exciting talent, but in the three year wait until follow-up ‘Wonder Where We Land’, he’s arguably been surpassed by his collaborators.

Both Ware and Sampha return for this second album, alongside a greater panoply of vocal talents.  Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek sings on the jazzy Look Away, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig offers some speech-singing on the bassy minimalist funk of NEW DORP. NEW YORK, and newcomer Raury soars on the hip-hop flavoured Higher.  A$AP Ferg and Warpaint also feature on Voices In My Head – the former providing a drugged out rap flow to match the psychedelia of the latter.

No matter who he’s matched with, ‘Wonder Where We Land’ always sounds like a SBTRKT album.  The clipped beats and samples and experimental feel remain, each collaborator forcing him to stretch his limits.  For the most part, though, he fails to bring out the best in his vocalists – their individual work is ultimately superior.  With Ware and Sampha especially, they add some welcome soulful warmth to the album on the likes of sprightly piano-based Problem (Solved), the dizzying Temporary View and the reggae inflected Gon Stay; yet the songwriting simply doesn’t match their solo work.

That’s an issue across the album, only exacerbated when SBTRKT takes on tracks himself.  Lantern flickers in and out of earshot barely leaving an impression and Everybody Knows is a fairly uninspired slice of funky house.  Most of the remaining solo tracks are merely interludes.  ‘Wonder Where We Land’ overall has a more experimental, scattergun feel than his debut and whilst his unique stamp is omnipresent, the quality of songwriting and production is simply stretched too thin.  Melody is the biggest stumbling block, with nothing quite matching the memorable highlights from the previous album: namely Hold On, Wildfire and Pharaohs

This is the main issue with the album: at twenty-one songs across two discs, there is a substantial amount of music, yet most of the tracks are simply too short to leave an impression.  There’s a lack of development, essentially leaving the album as a set of tools ripe for extended remixing.  ‘Wonder Where We Land’ has flashes of brilliance, but they’re too insubstantial across the full album.  Fans will expect more from this unique talent - instead, we're left to wonder what he'll do next.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Higher
* Voices In My Head

Listen: 'Wonder Where We Land' is available now.