Since the recent rise of popularity that the dubstep genre has experienced, I have seen several fans call dubstep “the future of music,” a claim that I hoped was false. I will have to say however that those who have made that statement may not be too far off; while dubstep seems like somewhat of a fad, it very well may be one of the sub-genres of dubstep that will really make its mark, post-dubstep. The idea behind post-dubstep is not too far off from that of the recent revivals that pop-punk and hardcore have been experiencing with posi pop-punk and “The Wave,” respectively. Post-dubstep takes influences from the original creators of the dubstep genre, while still maintaining a sense of originality and freshness to them. 2011 has already seen artists like James Blake and Jamie XX make popular and well-received ventures into the genre, but it’s SBTRKT who gives me hope that this genre is more than a novelty act.
There’s not much to be said about SBTRKT as a person, mainly because his identity is completely unknown. Like many artists of today, this London musician has chosen to make music in a completely anonymous manner, not revealing his name, and playing shows wearing his trademark tribal masks. Career-wise SBTRKT has been releasing EPs and singles since 2009, most of them containing remixes of other tracks. In 2010 he joined Young Turks, his current record label, and released a couple of EPs, which have led up to his self-titled debut LP. This may seem like a brief summary of his career, but the thing is that not much is known about him, and by reading this you basically know all there is to know about this guy.
SBTRKT begins with “Heatwave,” which gives an idea of what most of the record is about- minimalist electronic music mixed with ambient keyboard chords, mixed with the vocals of Soul singer Sampha, which makes for the perfect combination of human sadness and robotic bleakness.
“Hold On” really shines thanks to the vocals. Sampha’s sadness and melancholy is heard through the music as he sings “You’re giving me the coldest stare/Like you don’t even know I’m there.” It’s the emotion that Sampha brings that transforms the album from an electronica album, to something much more concrete and fleshed out.
The songs on the album can get pretty depressing. “Trials of the Past” once again features Sampha’s lonely vocals as he sings about the ghosts of the past that haunt him. “Right Thing to Do” features one of three female guest spots, this one being from Jessie Ware, which is easily my favorite. Much like Sampha’s performance, her voice is cold and haunting, and it gives the lyrics much more strength as she says “Such a hurricane, such a hurtin pain/Trapped in my soul and I can’t explain.”
Not all of the album is as bleak as the songs that have been described. Towards the second half of the album we get some pretty bouncy songs. The upbeat nature of the production that drives “Something Goes Right” makes lines like “Standing in a dream world/Sitting next to you/Up in the clouds/Up up in the clouds” take on a much more positive meaning. “Pharaohs” is probably the biggest jam of 2011; dancey, upbeat, and catchy as hell, it’s quite the number. The funky synth lines combined with a hell of a chorus (“All I see is you/Stars/Open/Arms/Pharaohs/Guard/Kings and Queens”) sung by Roses Gabor create the perfect feel-good song, while still maintaining the brainy production.
In short, SBTRKT is brilliant. I can’t think of a better word to describe this album. The loneliness, the production, the ambience, the vocals, it all works together to create an album that just feels smart. The post-dubstep genre is gaining some viability and regardless of whether it becomes the future of music doesn’t matter, because we got one hell of an album out of it.