Saturday, August 20, 2011


     I've actually been meaning to write up this review for a while, which brought to my attention the fact that I've been posting very few reviews lately. In part, this is due to the time it takes to write one, and the fact that I want to post loads of mp3s as well. When I get back to school, the reviews won't be everyday, that's for sure, so in that respect doing fewer reviews was probably a good idea. Back to SBTRKT. Pronounced 'subtract', the strangely written pseudonym belongs to an anonymous London music producer, who has only recently released this, his eponymous debut. I do love his mask though, which you can scope on the album cover. However, the record it covers sounded weird when I first heard about it. Labeled as dubstep, I wasn't eager to explore the genre, but after researching by way of a few remixes, I sat myself down and decided to listen without interruption. What I found was not the same as that which I expected to discover. 'SBTRKT' is like a sheet of white paper, in that on its own it would sound boring. Add a few highlighter pens and crayons to the table and it's a whole different story. Bass and pop infused dubstep is what we're dealt, and in my eyes it's a very nice hand to hold. A solid debut? Most definitely.
     The best I've ever heard? No. While it's strong, a few things bug me about the overall sound of the record. Firstly, this is a crystal clear album. Seriously. There is not the tiniest reverb on the vocals or speck of dust on the turntable. Bringing in different artists to contribute vocally works and adds influence, but if it weren't for say, Sampha and his voice, the tracks could potentially feel very over-produced. With the soulful vocals however, the clean production kinda matches that and offsets the emotion and passion with calm, cool and sometimes even simple sounds. Some of the guest vocals don't amaze as much as Little Dragon or Sampha, but those two points are really my only quibble with this eleven track record. SBTRKT is, in the end, very good at tying together songs and working the arrangement in with the style of the vocalist. A very accessible record, I salute him, even if it does lacks the personality and distinctive feel needed to keep my attention.
     'Heatwave' opens said album with a minimalistic flair that lingers throughout the other tracks. The layered sounds filled with anonymous male set a focal point amongst the synths, all of which contrast ever so nicely with the solid beat and simple melody of 'Hold On'. It marks the start of Sampha's contribution to 'SBTRKT', and with another five songs here touched by his voice, one could argue SBTRKT is a duo rather than a one-man affair. I personally love his voice, and consider it one of the better attributes this record retains. While not immediately mind-blowing, his soulful sensibilities shine with an emotion that dominates the songs. Another one of my favourite modern soul singers, Yukimi Nagano shows up on the next track, 'Wildfire', which is possibly my favourite out of these eleven. Her voice bubbles with individuality that takes the three minutes and splashes them with charm. Sampha comes back in with a completely different sound that's much deeper in its delivery. On a passive listen, and without looking at the tracklist, it would have been very easy for me to mistake his contribution on 'Something Goes Right' with that on 'Hold On', which has a higher range. I know a couple of people who don't like 'Pharoahs', probably because of it's higher, less soulful sound. I however find the speed and hook applaudable, rather than something to boo. 'Never Never' sounds a lot older in its structure and production than its predecessors, but again, the whole delivery makes it work within the context of the record. Closing aptly with 'Go Bang', SBTRKT creates a atmospheric sonic soundscape. It glistens with the dew of far off planets and glows with the hope of life outside our own. It's a playful look outside our little bubble, and I love it.
     Overall then, this is a very solid debut release, but I just find myself wandering at points throughout it. I guess that I just can't relate very much to the sound. I can relate fantastically to Sampha or Yukimi, but there doesn't seem to be anything behind the music itself. Being an anonymous producer doesn't help, but for me, and this is just my opinion, I would have preferred a little more personality to come through from behind that tribal mask. The production is polished to within an inch of its life, which causes the music to lose that 'of the moment' spark, but if you're a fan of say, James Blake or Jamie Woon, you're bound to love this just a little bit more than I did. Have a listen to 'Wildfire' below.