SBTRKT, 'SBTRKT' (Young Turks/XL)

8
SBTRKT
Critical Mass
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Label: Young Turks/XL

by Philip Sherburne

Stop me if you've heard this one before: U.K. producer dons mask, breaks with his past, comes charging out of the London underground with a canny fusion of dubstep, house, and R&B. From his disemvoweled alias to remixes for Radiohead and M.I.A., SBTRKT has ticked all the right boxes in his bid to become bass music's next crossover star. He's also signed to Young Turks, whose roster (the xx, Glasser, El Guincho) epitomizes the pop avant-garde at its most stylish.

Yet nothing on SBTRKT's debut album feels calculated. At just 41 minutes, it's effortlessly absorbing, with lithe rhythms, bubbling synthesizers, and buoyant vocals conveying Magnetic Man–sized hooks with the intimacy of James Blake (featured vocalist Sampha even sounds an awful lot like Blake).

Where dubstep, especially in its American versions, has stressed pummeling digitalism, SBTRKT goes for more supple textures, like kalimba and glockenspiel, and stacks vocals as extravagantly as the layers of a wedding cake. "Wildfire," featuring Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano, skulks like a cartoon panther; "Pharaohs" suggests Basement Jaxx by way of '80s freestyle; Sampha's cracking voice gives "Never Never" a dusky, ballad-like feel, even at its breakneck tempo; and "Right Thing to Do," featuring the dulcet Jessie Ware, is best of all, with trim blips and tight 2-step rhythms spinning in dizzying countermotion. It's like some skeletal machine fueled by bass and sorrow.

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