UK electronic producer SBTRKT (‘subtract’ when talking to other human beings, although it’s quite fun to try and say it as is…) has been making a name for himself over the past couple of years with a series of EP releases and high profile remixes, having a go at numbers from the likes of Basement Jaxx, M.I.A. and Radiohead. This is, generally speaking, the standard route for budding UK electronic musicians; remix the big names and hope a radio DJ somewhere takes notice of your original material. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it – however what usually follows if said producer manages to gain fame and notoriety is the prospect of the debut album – the stage at which most bedroom producers tend to fall flat on their faces. Thankfully on his full length debut SBTRKT has decided to grow up. Guest vocalists are the order of the day, SBTRKT himself (Aaron Jerome) takes a back seat and lets his beats do the talking, metaphorically. Literally, soulful crooners Sampha, Jessie Ware and Roses Gabor provide the perfect accompaniments to SBTRKT’s wide range of dubstep, urban, RnB and dance beats. Little Dragon’s Yukini Nagamo also features – last seen on Gorillaz “Plastic Beach.”

The maturity on SBTRKT isn’t just to be found in the mystery of Jerome himself, it’s that the attention is firmly put on the overall track, rather than just the beats or vocals. Whenever I hear of an electronic album these days that features guest vocalists, I tend to think of Simian Mobile Disco’s last album proper, “Temporary Pleasure” – and shudder. It too was an album from promising beat makers, except it turned out to be a very one dimensional outing whereby the two nerds sat at the back of the stage making electronic beats and blips whilst names like Beth Ditto and Jamie Lidell took the spotlight. What resulted were average beats and vocal performances that belied loftier reputations. Indeed the only real standout track on “Temporary Pleasure” was a simple electronic track with a relatively unknown name providing vocals (“Audacity of Huge” is still the only SMD track off “Temporary Pleasure” I hear today). As such, it’s refreshing that SBTRKT hasn’t gone overboard on guest collaborators and instead has chosen a select group of individuals that complement his new found pop style perfectly. Much of SBTRKT is, in a way more forward thinking than the output of other “post-dubstep” names of the moment like James Blake or Jamie Woon; there’s nothing here to ‘get’, it’s simply well done electronic music, albeit with a pop sheen. “Hold On” is beautiful, twinkling electronic music – and with guest vocalist Sampha on board, who sounds like he’s practically on the verge of tears, it’s a really touching moment on SBTRKT.

It’s obvious, as SBTRKT goes on, that Jerome himself has a brilliant ear for what works, and as such he pairs his vocalists with the tracks that suit them – Sampha gets the soulful, RnB numbers whilst UK singer Jessie Ware enjoys her best moment on the squelching “Right Thing To Do”, which sounds like something from UK starlet KatyB’s catalogue rather than the output of an enigmatic producer and relatively unknown guest vocalist.

The overall production on SBTRKT is top quality, and there are sections of this album that would simply fail to get old simply due to the infinite number of background noises and effects that fail to register after just a few listens. It’s reminiscent of Mylo’s “Destroy Rock & Roll”, particularly the stomping “Pharoahs” which manages to cram an unbridled amount of energy and fun into three and a quarter minutes and sounds as fresh as “Drop The Pressure” did back then.

SBTRKT takes its foot off the gas a little towards the album’s end, but top quality songwriting, vocals, beats – and a general energy throughout – make it a big plus.

1 Heatwave
2 Hold On
3 Wildfire (Feat. Little Dragon)
4 Sanctuary
5 Trials of the Past
6 Pharaohs
7 Something Goes Right
8 Right Thing to Do
9 Ready Set Loop
10 Never Never
11 Go Bang

SBTRKT - SBTRKT, reviewed by Lemon on 2011-07-13T08:00:45-07:00 rating 3.9 out of 5

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