The mask can be a powerful tool in music. Take away the identity and only the music does the talking. Take away the individuality and multiple voices can replace it. In electronic music specifically, the mask can become synonymous with the artist, becoming a de facto lead singer or symbol. While SBTRKT’s mask is not as popular as Daft Punk’s robot suits or Deadmau5’s helmet, it’s certainly just as important to his music.
On his second album, Wonder Where We Land, SBTRKT widens his mask to include new creative energies and personas and delivers a great project. SBTRKT, actual name Aaron Jerome, arrived in the post-dubstep wave of British DJs in the early part of this decade. His eponymous debut in 2011 distinguished him from his contemporaries thanks to his knack for catchy bass melodies and his taste in collaborators. But his fresh discoveries, Sampha and Jessie Ware, are now buzzing artists in their own right while EDM has been rapidly changing ever since it hit stateside.
Luckily, Wonder Where We Land finds new blood and new sounds to explore, displaying artistic growth without getting rid of the original spark. Most of the club influence has been traded in for a more luscious atmosphere. Piano keys flutter around, voices swirl together, and SBTRKT’s interludes keep the whole project humming. It all complements the singers, including Sampha and Jessie Ware of course, whose light voices blend well with the accompaniment. Sampha’s voice in particular is a perfect companion to SBTRKT’s sound, an eerie wail that sounds alien and soulful all at once.
While SBTRKT and his frequent collaborators have all grown into their sound, it’s the new artists that shine brightest. SBTRKT takes his name literally here; without a trace of personal pride, he has created moody kaleidoscopes that fit his guests perfectly. “Higher” showcases young Atlanta it-boy Raury zooming through a scattered stream of conscious rant touching on segregation, holy Motoralas and his dad leaving him, and that’s just the first verse. SBTRKT keeps the beat running just as fast as Raury’s thoughts, as they both find some clarity in the song’s smoky confusion. A similar energy charges first single “New Dorp, New York.” A jazzy bass line propels the song forward as Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig bounces off the beat. The song drips with urban energy and satire, an encapsulation and deconstruction of the big apple. Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek continues her star run on “Look Away,” with SBTRKT turning her whispered cries inside out until they barely have any meaning.
The album closes on a high note as A$AP Ferg attempts to clear his mind on “Voices In My Head.” It’s a remarkable turn for the Harlem rapper, who’s already been on a tear of perfectly selected guest spots this year. It displays him at his best, balancing singing with off-kilter rapping, cutting up his flows to fit the paranoia of the song. It’s a fitting end to the album, a comedown to its long flight.
Wonder Where We Land is everything we’d want out of a sophomore album from the young producer; a matured sound, stronger guests, and a clearer vision. SBTRKT’s greatest ability is to blend a multitude of voices together into one cohesive project. It’s a quality that other DJs and even hip-hop producers need to embrace. Maybe it’s all in the mask.
4 out of 5
You can stream the album here.