Review: SBTRKT

Transitions EP
March 23, 2014

Londoner Aaron Jerome adopted the SBTRKT moniker and dons tribalistic masks to maintain anonymity as a producer—to literally ‘subtract’ himself from the visible representation of his sound. 2011’s self-titled debut was fronted by big-name vocal guests like Sampha, Little Dragon, and Jessie Ware, but now the completely instrumental Transitions EP puts the focus back on Jerome, as he edges ever closer to dropping album number two.

“This is music written over the last year, whilst recording for my second album. Much of the music I released before my debut album was instrumental and I want to continue to share this side of the music I make,” Jerome says of Transitions, a trilogy of distinct couplets. The EP is an admitted nexus between his first two major projects, whilst serving also as an epilogue for the first and a prologue for the second. It offers a rare insight into both the past and future of SBTRKT.

Transitions’ introductory and best-developed couplet, Transitions I, references the dark, energetic, future-garage side of SBTRKT. The heavy jungle pulse of Gamalena is decorated in birdsong samples and shoe-squeak melodies, and has an irresistible confidence despite being oddly reminiscent of that old Nike basketball commercial. Moving into the perfectly glitchy Hold The Line, it’s clear even now that this is SBTRKT at his most percussive and immersive.

Watch: SBTRKT – Kyoto

Holistically, Transitions grows less and less polished throughout its-six song trajectory. Part II gives a heavy nod to downtempo and ambient music, as well as trip-hop and chillwave. Kyoto layers warmth and movement in the cinematic vein of Boards Of Canada and Portishead, while Resolute revives SBTRKT’s relaxed R&B undertones. While Transitions II still makes for rewarding listening, it’s simply less exciting than Transitions I.

Drifting into Transitions III, it begins to feel as though Jerome has thrown together two-song drafts. The over-sweetness of the pop-tinged Highs And Lows is compounded by layers of glitteringly harsh synths and uninspiring percussion. Oddly, the song precedes the rolling and fractured experimental cut Stifle, which sounds like something from the mind Thom Yorke. It’s exciting territory for SBTRKT that’s clearly still being mapped out.

What Transitions proves is that Jerome could just go it alone. The material doesn’t sound as though he’s created it with vocal guests in mind, and he’s continued to develop his own unique musical sensibilities. The anonymity afforded him by the SBTRKT persona is still important, as it represents Jerome’s grander ideals of privacy and the creative other.

While Transitions lacks the vocals and lyrics which have humanised Jerome’s sound in the past, it harks back to the instrumental roots of his music, drawing that mask back just a touch. It appears that on album number two, whenever it arrives, he won’t want to be overshadowed.

Watch: SBTRKT – Transitions Trailer

Stream ‘Transitions’ in full at ‘Transitions I’ is available 5th May, ‘Transitions II’ on 19th May, and ‘Transitions III’ on 2nd June via Young Turks.