OCTOBER: Wonder Where We Land by SBTRKT

Funny how an artist can make something that doesn’t grab you, and then make something else that isn’t so different – and it blows you away.

I *liked* the first album – or rather, I *loved* the singles and another track or two, and I thought the rest of it was a little undercooked. I expected this album to be a re-run of that experience – I *love* the Ezra Koenig tune and the Sampha single, and on first listen, I had a feeling of deja vu. Nice, inventive, soulful, but downbeat and – yup, maybe a little undercooked.

Wow, was I wrong? Every single time I played the album, it opened up a little more. Until I couldn’t stop playing it, and the songs started ringing round my brain even when I wasn’t listening to them.

This record is such a huge step forward from his debut. He was always clearly insanely talented, but he’s honed that talent very quickly, and this genuinely feels like an artist firing on all cylinders. And like all musicians of any note, he seems to create a sound that makes you wonder where the fuck it even came from.

What I like about it is that he doesn’t feel like a guy immersed in some hipster culture or trying to create something to do with fashion. It is *soul* music in the broadest sense. I knew nothing about the guy until I read this interview:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/oct/02/sbtrkt-wonder-where-we-land-interview

– and it really informed my listening of this album. He does sound like an outsider, someone who’s willing to try anything out and see where it leads. A song like Look Away, featuring the Chairlift singer, could easily come across as repetitive or moribund – instead it feels insistent and melancholy. Higher, the Raury track, feels a bit like a slap in the face the first few times you hear it, coming as it does quite early in the tracklist. But again, it became something quite different after a few listens. He sure as hell knows how to get the best of Jessie Ware, an artist I *really* like but who can easily drift a little into bland territory without the right material. Best of all is the album’s closer, Voices in My Head, a terrifyingly real drug psychosis song delivered with paranoid genius by ASAP Ferg.  Again, you struggle to imagine how a collaboration like that came about. And then I read this:

http://rock.genius.com/Sbtrkt-voices-in-my-head-lyrics

And this kind of sums up what I love about this. He’s a collaborator – a proper one, who can bring out the best in everyone he works with – but one who at the same time has a complete musical vision.

This, Brothers, is undoubtedly one of my albums of the year. I look forward to your thoughts.

19 comments

  1. misterstory

    When the ‘has anyone got the SBTRKT album’ email came from Brother David I will admit to not being enthused. I admitted to the fact that I was going to come into this album with some prejudice and in my head I knew this was going to be hard to get over. My thoughts on the last album were that I don’t recall a single track where removing the vocals would not have improved my listening experience. I will admit that I did not try too hard with the 1st one though. Plus, the less rational side of me is also a bit sick of musicians in masks. Want to remain anonymous, fine but let’s not do the mask thing please? (obviously I let The Knife off for it so should extend this to Mr. RKT).

    The following is my thoughts after listens 1&2 (for better or worse);

    I turned the album off 3 times on the first day of ownership. Admittedly I was trying to work and it didn’t really fit what I was trying to achieve (needed something instrumental … the first album minus vocal tracks would have been perfect). ‘Higher’ was the pinch point each time I’m afraid. I am not getting on well with this track. I find the lyrical content and delivery an incongruous match to the production which I really like. I am sure that this makes me old and staid and blah blah but I simply don’t get along with it. This hurts even more as the track that before it ‘Lanterns’ is my favourite track on the album, it sounds vital and exciting and enticing … but he wimps out after 2 minutes and 1 second? How was this not explored more? How was this not the opening track of the album?

    The Sampha tracks feel underwhelming to me. Meh?

    New Dorp. New York stands out like a sore thumb and other for commercial reasons doesn’t belong on the album, and if I am wrong, it doesn’t belong here in the track list. It jolts out of the play list like an Ipod shuffle clanger. It is a great track but it is so far removed from the other tracks that it breaks of up the flow that was being created … made worse by being followed by what sounds like its going to be another belter of an instrumental when some bird starts muttering about being shifty. Really? Was that what he really wanted on that track? Was that the killer collaboration?

    The rest of my 1st and 2nd runs through the album was through gritted teeth if I am honest.

    The following is my thoughts after 2 more listens today (in car with no interruptions);

    Still love Lanterns and want it to be 6 minutes long.

    Still don’t like Higher but it hangs a little better this time round.

    Look away is my hook into this album. This is why I will listen to it again. *press repeat on ‘Look Away*, I like this.

    New Dorp. New York. Does not belong on this album.

    ‘The Light’ is my next stand out track. More reasons to listen again.

    I don’t like either track with ‘rappers’ … but I did get much more from this listen.

    So, early days but moving from ‘actively hating’ to ‘will listen again’ is something. I am quite proud of myself for trying to be fair and balanced and look for things I liked (I can feel myself growing as a person). It does usually come back to the production minus the lyrics though. ‘Look Away’ and ‘The Light’ feel like songs that I would like regardless of how they were produced, the production of these tracks is stellar and really brings out the best of the song and I feel that these sound like full on collaborations. At the moment I dont feel this about the rest of the album but I will keep trying … promise.

    Your write up Brother David is a very good reason to keep listening as it was a killer read in itself.

    Sorry that I can’t be more positive at the moment but I will keep finding things that I like.

  2. David Allison

    I like your reportage style feedback, Joey. Couldn’t disagree more about New Dorp New York, it’s the perfect stage setter for the album. I think this discussion is going to be INTERESTING….

  3. misterstory

    … for clarity, I really like New Dorp New York. I just think it doesn’t fit.

    I listened again today. The album has grown on me. I am still some distance from being a fan of it though.

    Sorry if I am coming across harsh on this one …

  4. whyohwhyohwhy

    Actually I’m holding back on full comment here. Not because I’m being difficult, but sometimes I’m too quick to form impressions, and this album, while not the sort of thing I’d pick up, is actually very interesting. Leave it for now…. I’ll be back.

  5. misterstory

    I have been thinking for some time of starting a new thread on here about if you guys consciously look for things in an album or if you have started to become more conscious about the decisions you make or opinions that you form about an album. As we run through albums there’s almost always one of us who takes against an album. Obviously this time its me and I have been trying to analyse my reactions a little more consciously. I think I look for the following;

    (i) I want to believe it – I realise that this may sound trite but I want to feel the emotion in the music, I want to believe that the emotions are real and not produced (I don’t want to feel manipulated)
    (ii) I want it to have a place in my life – as I have mentioned before, these days I do need to consider when and where I can / want to listen to albums. e.g. I used to listen to Hip Hop all the time, now-a-days its (a) too sweary / terrible sexual politics for a young family environment (b) makes me an aggressive driver in the car (!!!) (c) to distracting lyrically for when I am working (d) to alerting for chill out time after little one is in bed (e) perfect for when I am training (only 4 hrs ish a week) – so I could love a Hip Hop album but have no time to listen to it
    (iii) I want to hear ‘new things’ – a new take on old things / a new twist / a whatever but I do like originality. Some things may be very new to me but old and boring to you guys. A new take / re-hash or re-imagining might open up a whole new world of ‘old-music’ that is new to me

    Let me collect my thoughts on SBTRKT when listening again today and compare my experience to the above criteria and be a little more rational.

  6. nolankane706

    I love the reactions that this album is stirring up.

    Where do I start with this, well I loved the first SBTRKT album but it took a while for me to get it, and this has been very much the same.

    There is much to say about SBTRKT and what he does. He’s a producer that uses vocalists and makes good tracks, and also is one of the few that has been able to string them together in two really good albums.

    At his second time to the plate he has come with more experience, and due to his popularity more opportunity to work with more artists. The production is tighter, everything sounds more polished and I think he’s pushing his music in more directions.

    Before the album was released I had already heard NEW DROP, NEW YORK and The Light.. and LOVED them. When I sat down with this album it took me a little while longer to get into many of the other songs. I think both the songs with “rappers” are strong, infact I think that Higher is one of the best tracks on the album.

    I’ve found the tracks with Sampha a while to get into. I think it’s just his style of singing that I have to get use to, but this happened with him on the first album as well for me. Gon Stay is a fantastic song, and If It Happens has really grown on me.

    Problem Solved and Look away nicely mix things up with a female feel on the album and both are great tracks in themselves.

    What can I say, I’m loving all the songs on this album. SBTRKT has done a brilliant job on his own and his collaborators to let you in their mind and take you on a journey with each track, and then has peiced them together as a nice little album.

    This is one of the stand out albums for me over the last 12 months and is sure to get many plays from me.

    • misterstory

      Interesting to hear a very similar review from Nolan. I just don’t get it to be honest. I got in my car at 7.30 am this morning to drive 2hrs to a meeting. I ended up listening to Caribou, Perfume Genius and FKA Twigs and then skipped about a few tracks. It’s just not penetrating for me I’m afraid. I am appreciating more on each listen and now can diagnose that the Sampha tracks are one of my major issues. I just don’t connect with them. It’s all good. I don’t want to be a hater and bang on too much!

  7. David Allison

    Debates like this are what the blog was set up for. LOVE it, love that an album like this could so divide us. At the moment, I’m playing it even more than Perfume Genius, and that’s saying something.

  8. misterstory

    PS

    Brother Nolan – I referred to the two tracks with ‘rappers’ on the SBTRKT album … what should I call them? I didn’t want to say MCs or … er … lyricists. What should I call them to avoid sounding like a ‘Dad’.

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      Sorry for the lack of response. I’ve been away and knee deep in work, but I’ve been listening to this, FKA and Caribou quite a bit, and I’m afraid I’m in the Brother Joseph camp here. I like individual tracks (New Dorp, especially), and Gon Stay (Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes on the bassline anyone?) and the The Light is brilliant, but at the same time, while I appreciate the production and the range of music, it’s just neither something I really fully connect with, or really go for. The work with Sampha, I just think “this is nice, but James Blake is better” and the Jessie Ware track sounds pretty derivative to me. In short, I ‘appreciate’ the music, but don’t really feel it. But If It Happens is a real grower. But only two tracks like that on the album, I just want a whole album of it, and this isn’t it.

      Much like Twigs – though having undoubtedly more impact than that album – I’m not sure if I’ll be listening to this in a month or two. In fact, i’ve almost stopped listening to that one entirely now. It’s just ‘not my thing’, in the way that Caribou I loved from the moment I first heard it.

      I dare say that the breadth of the music may even be a problem in itself, which is daft given my eclectic tastes, but maybe this is almost too eclectic for its own good. You can’t choose what you like…

  9. misterstory

    I agree with those comments Guy. It doesn’t hang together for me at all. If I feel like a variety of tracks / styles / voices etc I’d rather put a mix on (Brother David, Nolan or Guys of course).

  10. David Allison

    Disagree more than I can say. I love the variety of styles, but I also feel he has a sound, or a vibe, or something, that hangs over the whole album and pulls it together. A kind of aching melancholy, if that doesn’t sound too fanciful.

    I’d choose this over James Blake any day of the week. He only wrote one funereal song and then he made two albums trying to make it again and again. *runs away and hides*

      • whyohwhyohwhy

        Haha I love a good discussion. It shows how four people with similar – but not identical – tastes in music can lock horns over “feelings”, “atmosphere ” and all sorts of ethereal notions that make an album go from ‘decent’ to ‘incredible’. One person’s criticism is another’s magic.

        I’m persevering here though, and for instance this morning and, for instance, picking up where I left off, the last three tracks, from Gon Stay to Voices In My Head, sound really good as a trio, but I know I’ve not loved them by the time I end up at the end of the while album.

        As for James Blake, well it’s horses for courses isn’t it? One man’s “same song all over” is another’s “top 5 album of 2013”. That’s why I love music. One thing this album is is interesting, and even if it doesn’t gel then I know it’s been rewarding. That’s all you can ask really.

  11. nolankane706

    Sorry borother Joseph and Guy, but I’m with David on this, SBTRKT is sitting over this entire body of music. I’d take this over James Blake any day of the week… i think James Blake is a bit drab to be honest.

    I have been coming back to this over the last few days after getting stuck into a few other albums I’m bought and like it even more now. It’s a strong album, yes a bit like a compilation…. but better!

  12. whyohwhyohwhy

    This is growing on me, more than I thought it would. I still think the versatility is just still a bit too much, but there are some great songs on it…. Good work, and I love a good debate!

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