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SBTRKT – 'Wonder Where We Land' album review

Album two is slower and darker, yet just as vital as the masked man’s debut

SBTRKT – Wonder Where We Land
By Oliver Keens |

In 2009, a man with a plan entered the scene. SBTRKT was the alias he went by, and anonymity was his schtick. Not only did he hide behind a mask, the person who designed the mask was also kept anonymous. It could have got boring in seconds. Luckily, his plan also hinged on a sublime self-titled LP that tied together the disparate sounds of UK underground dance music with an elegance rarely heard across whole albums. Not to mention singles like ‘Pharaohs’ and ‘Wildfire’ that provided proper ‘moments’ on dancefloors.

Fast forward to his second album, and you can’t help but be struck by the maturing that’s taken place. Tempos have come down, wobbly synths with been replaced with icy pianos; there’s even a hint of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ on the Sampha-vocalled ‘Gon Stay’. The closest comparison is UNKLE’s ‘Psyence Fiction’ album from the late-’90s – a sci-fi tinged smorgasbord packed full of guests (Jessie Ware, Denai Moore, Warpaint, Koreless) and made for heads not hips.

The worst you can say about ‘Wonder Where We Land’ is that it’s not as overtly fun as its predecessor. But the negatives end there – this is accomplished, affecting, unique and unusual stuff that demands repeat listening this autumn. What becomes apparent after a while is how each singer is given a unique sonic atmosphere to inhabit. Take the woozy Radiohead-esque sway used to accompany ASAP Ferg’s verses on ‘Voices in My Head’, the goofball space bass that drives Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig on ‘New Dorp, New York’ or the elegant chords and pop-step rhythm used to fire Sampha’s lonely heart on ‘Temporary View’. That’s before you factor in the astonishing debut of Raury – an 18-year-old Atlanta rapper and singer whose machine-gun flow on ‘Higher’ pretty much steals the entire show from the masked maverick.
What do you think of ‘Wonder Where We Land’? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

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