To say that Wonder Where We Land is highly anticipated is an understatement, considering SBTRKT’s 2011 self-titled debut album might be the most influential release of the last five years. SBTRKT laid down a foundation for fusion electronica that paved the way for acts like Disclosure, London Grammar, FKA Twigs and countless others to fluidly advance the electro soul, electro R&B and dubstep movements. Simply put, none of those acts could’ve been as well-received without SBTRKT warming up our ears for what was to come. It opened the floodgates.
SBTRKT’s Aaron Jerome is a meticulous producer who has seemingly been observing the musical climate for the last three years, perfecting his ideology and waiting for just the right time and manner in which to strike. There’s a distinct vision and calculated collective involved in Wonder Where We Land. Jerome still has singer Sampha by his side for much of the record, but it’s the rest of the collective that puts the bow on this gift.
Jerome set up shop in a remote studio on the tidal island of Osea, off the Essex shore—a place where the roads are submerged for eight out of every 12 hours. A creative hideaway was the stage for the album’s first sessions, and the answers to the question posed in its title began to come to fruition, answers to new directions in music and answers as to how SBTRKT manages to loop in uniquely influential collaborators to create a sound that could only live on a SBTRKT record.
The dark and cryptic “Look Away” with Chairlift’s Carolyn Polacheck succeeds in seeping the listener deeply into the world of Wonder Where We Land, a world of “gargoyles gargling oil,” that Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig describes on lead single “New Dorp, New York.” The single seemed weird and mysterious when it dropped, but as label XL Recordings gradually (and impeccably) released subsequent singles, the pieces started to fit into place. The songs on Wonder Where We Land are pieces of a musical puzzle that, once put together, flow magically and beautifully into a surreal creation unlike anything else.
On “The Light” featuring Denai Moore, a sputtering high bass is in the background of Moore’s velvety voice. It’s the kind of production that makes you want to move slowly and robotically, so as to fully envelop yourself in the beat. You get the best kind of chills with every effect Jerome layers in, yet he lets Moore lead the journey in the same way that he lets up-and-coming Atlanta MC Raury lead on “Higher.” SBTRKT has a special ability to extract a certain output from young musicians, to make it feel as if they’ve done something this magnificient before.
It’s what SBTRKT did on the debut album with Jessie Ware: Creating the certainty that no other singer belongs on the track than the one he’s placed there. Ware makes an appearance this time around on “Problem (Solved),” but at this point she’s established herself as one of the foremost vocalists in electro-soul, and one can’t help but think that Moore and Raury are heading for their own ascent.
Perhaps SBTRKT’s best example of bringing out the rawest, truest art from one of his collaborators comes on the album’s closing track, “Voices In My Head” with A$AP Ferg. Ferg is known as a trap music MC, a high-energy, oft-aggressive and bass-heavy variation of hip hop. “Voices In My Head” couldn’t be further away from that. It’s the album’s most atmospheric moment and shows us an unprecedented side of Ferg, a beautiful one that feels like it belongs in a dark jazz club…lights low, smoke in the air, piano sputtering as Ferg delivers emotional poetry flawlessly.
Instrumental tracks like “Lantern” and the Koreless collaboration “Osea,” laden throughout Wonder Where We Land, add to the mystical journey of it all. It’s a trip into an unknown world where our only guide is the music. On “Temporary View,” Sampha sings “Sometimes you just need an escape/ I understand that’s why you have to fly away,” and it captures the essence of the record. From a remote studio on a tidal island, to Jerome’s journeys to New York and LA to corral other collaborators, this is an album about vision, movement and manifestation. It’s about removing oneself from the familiar to tap into the brain’s ability to create unprecedented and inspiring art. Success.