Enigmatic producer Aaron Jerome, aka SBTRKT, was hailed as the king of the future-garage scene with his self-titled 2011 debut, but his much-anticipated follow-up, Wonder Where We Land, suggests it’s a crown he no longer wishes to hold.
Indeed, there’s little amongst the album’s twelve genre-hopping tracks that could be described as danceable, with only the instrumental “Lantern,” a whirlwind of shimmering ravey synths, kaleidoscopic blips and bleeps and disjointed hip-hop beats, raising the BPM to a floorfilling level.
Instead, Wonder Where We Land finds SBTRKT in a more melancholic and subdued state of mind. When he’s joined by velvety-voiced crooner and regular cohort Sampha, who once again steals the show from the record’s starrier guest names, the results can be spell-binding.
The fragile piano-led “If It Happens” and lonely hearts anthem “Temporary View” certainly could teach Sam Smith a thing or two about soulful balladry. Elsewhere, “Gon Stay,” which combines Sampha’s lovelorn tones with tropical beats and a funky bassline which evokes Paul Simon’s Graceland, and the title track, a glitchy electro-R&B affair which appears to be hijacked halfway through by a malfunctioning robot, both prove that Jerome still possesses a sense of mischief.
Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig also injects a sense of fun into proceedings with some clever alliteration (“gargoyles gargling oil”) on the brilliantly goofy new wave pop of “New Dorp, New York,” but is usurped in the wordplay stakes by 18-year-old Atlanta rapper Raury, who fully grabs his moment in the spotlight with his rapid-fire delivery on “Higher.”
However, not all of the guest vocalists are given such an opportunity to shine. Jessie Ware is saddled with “Problem (Solved),” an aimless jazz bar number which is easily the most non-descript track she’s put her name to. On “Look Away,” Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek appears to be auditioning for the next James Bond theme, despite being lumbered with a toy piano arrangement which ends in a jarring squeal of high-pitched sirens. The four instrumentals scattered throughout also needlessly break up the flow of the record, with “Day 5” little more than a half-minute sample of church bells.
Wonder Where We Land, therefore, is unlikely to shape the zeitgeist in the way that its predecessor did. But although it doesn’t always utilise its guest names in the most effective way, there are still enough flashes of genius to prove that SBTRKT’s intrigue lies far beyond his signature tribal mask.