By Arlene Lormestoire
Donning a tribal mask to hide his face, SBTRKT is a man of anonymity. Pronounced Subtract, SBTRKT’s music, like his identity, is questionable. The music is a rich blend of r&b, psychedelic, soul, dubstep – almost anything you can think of. These genres are mixed in the form of mellow piano melodies, soft-spoken refrains and upbeat drums that remind you that his music is, in fact, dance music. Collaborations with well known artists like Ezra Koenig, Jessie Ware and A$AP Ferg only add to the individuality.
SBTRKT’s latest album Wonder Where We Land is a bold mix of songs that incorporate mostly deep bass lines that penetrate the ears. When listening to tracks such as “Voices In My Head” ft. A$AP Ferg, it’s easy get lost between the trance-like vibe of A$AP’s voice. The repetition of the phrase “voices in my head” only add to the chaos that is the thoughts of the brain itself. Contrasting the slow repetition of the phrase follows the faster-paced rapping. The song ends with the improvisation-like tapping of piano keys that seem to embrace the convoluted character of the song, and SBTRKT himself.
Similarly, the use of afrobeats and tribal-like drums to Ezra Koenig’s bright voice in “NEW DORP, NEW YORK” create a eager yet pensive sensation. The song is almost a dance song, but leans towards a ‘night on the couch’ vibe. In “Problem (Solved),” Jessie Ware’s velvety voice pairs perfectly with the piano and synth tracks that fill the entire track. Even at the beginning of the song there is an unexpected pause before Jessie Ware’s voice takes over.
Unlike his collaborative songs, songs like “Paper cuts” and “Decembrist” don’t follow the pattern of mellow piano tones, but are surprisingly techno themed. “Paper cuts” features a gamer-like theme while “Decembrist” offers an hip-hop beat accompanying fast synths.
If you couldn’t tell already, it is hard to characterize SBTRKT’s music easily. The entire album, along with the EPs he has released in the past, are hard to put under one umbrella. The only attribute his songs may have in common is the fact that they are electronic. Other than that, every track is unpredictable. While listening to his songs, I tried skipping through the tracks, hoping to find a solid restatement of the chorus, or the infamous “beat drop;” it was impossible.
Frustration tugging at me, I realized that the unpredictable quality of his music is where the beauty lies. SBTRKT’s songs are not for those who desire the same tired standard played on the radio. Rather, it is a blizzard of emotions that deserves to be heard no matter how much it cannot be categorized.
Arlene Lormestoire is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org