When a producer comes out of the gate with a series of impressive singles and then elects to create a proper full-length, it comes with lofty expectations and a certain amount of trepidation as to how the artist can translate his previous success to the long-player format. Such is the case with South London's SBTRKT. Amazingly, his self-titled debut is not only an incredibly diverse yet cohesive record, but also an album that effortlessly walks the seldom-crossed and often-dangerous tightrope between UK bass music and modern pop.
SBTRKT's productions have always been marked by a peculiar leanness. While many of his contemporaries pile layer upon layer to create their tracks, the notoriously masked beatmaker seems to get by with a less-is-more credo, and it is this approach which serves as the constant backbone to the album's genre-shifting movements. Apart from the usual bubbling—at times emotive—strains of UK bass/post-dubstep he's explored extensively on previous releases, SBTRKT also dips his hand in everything from the jazzy 2-step of "Sanctuary" to the milky disco of "Pharaohs," all with an eye toward crafting a complete song rather than just a track. He was not alone in this ambitious endeavor, tapping a host of vocal collaborators including Little Dragon frontwoman Yukimi Nagano, fellow Londoner Jessie Ware, and, most notably, frequent co-conspirator Sampha. Really, it would be hard to imagine this album without the vocal contributors, whose collaborative efforts make up over half of the 11 tracks and, for the most part, are more memorable than SBTRKT's solo instrumental efforts. With the exception of the shimmering standout "Pharaohs"—which features the glorious beltings of Roses Gabor—the LP's finest moments always seem to feature generous amounts of Sampha's raspy voice. Possibly because the two have worked together for years while running in the same South London circle, they seem to fit together seamlessly, crafting the most alluring and ambitious songs the LP has to offer, such as "Trials of the Past," "Never Never," and the epitome of the album's club/pop-hybrid aesthetic, "Something Goes Right."
In all, SBTRKT is an accomplished, if somewhat unexpected, undertaking, one that finds him expanding upon his established credentials and fitting into a more traditional producer role. By brilliantly folding the talents of others into his own workings, he's created something greater than what may have been individually possible.