SBTRKT - Wonder Where We Land

by Jack Reid

I think SBTRKT has been very wary of the sophomore album syndrome. That sharp decline in quality and reception of an artist’s work with the release of the installment right after the one that blew up worldwide is a scary force for evil. SBTRKT has diluted the tension of the wait for the inevitable bomb by throwing in collaborations over existing tracks - like Drake’s fantastic appearance on the Wildfire remix, and a three-part EP suite in Transitions I, II, and III. After listening to the length of Wonder Where We Land, I think I understand the great act of obfuscation.

SBTRKT’s debut album had a couple of instrumental interludes, nods of the head to the fantastic instrumental dance music that Aaron was making before he started to think about studio albums. Those interludes were fantastically atmospheric. They stood as pieces of music by themselves, and I often found myself queueing up interludes just as often as the hit singles from the self-titled LP. I can’t say the same for the interludes on this album. Day 1 sets up the blending paradigm of the album. Wonder Where We Land is intended to be listened to as one continuous play, as obnoxiously indicated by the textured risers that suddenly and jarringly snap off at the end of individual tracks. To this point, the only interlude that stands confidently on its own is Lantern, which really carries a sense of momentum and just-in-control chaos.

As I’m getting sick of saying, the best track on this album is the single. New Dorp, New York is a fantastically funky bassline-led song with a feature by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, with support vocals from Warpaint’s Emily Kokal. The track manages to sound simultaneously sassy, dark, and atmospheric. It’s really the stand-out track, and unfortunately it’s not a new discovery for anybody that’s been following SBTRKT’s radio plays or anything about the guy over the past few months. Unfortunately, most of the other tracks on the album suffer from a real lack of cohesion, both in the track and between them. Jessie Ware offers some really beautiful vocals on Problem Solved, but the instrumental is one part boring, one part directionless. The song really suffers as a result.

I feel bad for Sampha on this album. After making a real name for himself on the first album, he successfully launched a solo career made of heartbreaking ballads. Now he’s back with SBTRKT on two tracks that just don’t suit him at all. Gon’ Stay takes a similar arrangement to New Dorp, with a prominent bass guitar; it slaps Sampha on top with little positive effect. The titular track’s vocal melody is just annoying and it clashes with the noisy and crowded instrumental. That’s the story with the majority of this album. There is some real talent present on this album, but SBTRKT seems to have lost the ability to glue it all together. As a result, you’re left with a mess and only a couple of happy accidents.