Transitions - SBTRKT

SBTRKT creates patterned meshes in leaked instrumental series.

Additional Info

7.0

ALBUM: Transitions

ARTIST: SBTRKT

2014

Electronic

Though a producer’s craft includes cultivating a style through non-verbal diction, many find it difficult to be defined separately from their use of vocals—whether in relation to sample-treatment or collaborations with other vocalists. The pixilated soundscapes of London’s SBTRKT certainly stretch far beyond its haunting voices, but it is often his vocal features that reach the public: the melancholic crooning of collaborator Sampha, Yukumi Nagano’s infectious inflections on “Wildfire,” or refrains from the various artists that he has remixed. Not that Aaron Jerome would mind, selecting the pseudonym, “SBTRKT,” as a figurative negation of his identity and donning indigenous ceremonial masks to conceal his appearance on stage. However, Jerome is now stepping momentarily out of the shadows to unveil a collection of instrumentals “written over the last year, whilst recording for [his] second album.” Having already leaked the track “Hold The Line” when announcing the forthcoming set of 12” EPs, Transitions I, II & III, SBTRKT has now made the entire collection available for streaming on his official website.

Set to a Moiré web-design of shifting psychedelic-neon strips, Transitions constructs geometric formations from the overlay of patterns and tones from Jerome’s personal soundbank. Interlacing signature kaleidoscopic melodies, skittering percussive lines and deep bass, these lattices provide different permutations of SBTRKT’s digitalized expression, waxing from minimal spaces to blossoming walls-of-sound. Although these patterns can occasionally seem haphazard, they are consistent in SBTRKT’s channeling of UK Bass through synth-laden indie-electronic structures, or vice versa. Thus, Transitions slots snugly into Jerome’s discography, as well as in the growing body of work tied to London’s thoughtful Young Turks imprint (upon which this EP will be distributed).

Like Koreless, Jamie xx, Four Tet to some extent, and other Young Turks artists, SBTRKT gained prominence alongside the emergence of a vaguely-defined post-dubstep movement known for innovative, melodically-inclined distortions of Britain’s dance-music. Staying true to this ideal, Transitions siphons a hazy version of bass-focused cultures that aim to shake the organs—ranging from his textured interpretation of garage rhythms in “Hold The Line” to glazed-over rave scenes in the trap-tinged “Highs and Lows.” This collection, however, never feels entirely suited for clubs, lacking the unforgiving thump of their dimly-lit dancefloors. Rather, SBTRKT’s effort is filled with light, frayed substances, softening the blow of percussive intricacy with ornamental textures and sparse densities. For instance, even the dubstep-laced “Stifle” feels somewhat watered-down in spite of its hyperactive sweeping arpeggios and tribal beat. A lack of urgency seems to pervade the EP, allowing specific timbric relationships to waft in and out like thoughts.

Jerome, in explaining the motivations behind Transitions, writes that “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.” This effort, then, is not necessarily a transition in and of itself, though DJs might term it as such when looking to switch to a break from weighty beats and rattling bass. Instead, SBTRKT is taking a step back from the figure he has carved, responding to the notion of artistic direction and linear progress that isn’t as clear-cut as fans and music-followers (including myself) believe it to be. Transitions II highlights this, with A-side, “Kyoto,” spilling vaguely-oriental spots on a warm ebb-and-flow bass; whereas its flip-side, “Resolute” revisits the futuristic synths of “Ready Set Loop.” Despite the tracks’ formalistic dissimilarities, II is possibly the most coherent vinyl of the trio, demonstrating that transitioning between different styles does not necessarily mean a departure from one or the other.

Transitions is definitely a distinct entity in SBTRKT’s discography. In accenting the absence of a vocal focus, the tracks will inevitably feel stripped down despite the complex layers of Jerome’s melody. Yet, it is this that affords the beats—and therefore, the listener—space to breathe. Those seeking the future-garage beats and summery textures fashioned in earlier instrumental projects, such as his Step In Shadows EP, may be disappointed that Transitions lacks the same verve at times. Fortunately, SBTRKT is not interested in outpacing himself and concentrates instead on delicate arrangements that are guaranteed to be good-natured and peculiar.

“This side of the music”

1. Gamelana
A tense, bass-heavy track, SBTRKT juxtaposes the more organic dissonance of chimes and bird-chirps with micro-tuned computerized pitches and reversed symbals. Though he does not seem to use any actual Indonesian gamelan instruments, the title refers to the culture’s pitched percussions and manipulation of density that are thematic in Jerome’s work. Perhaps the most danceable tune on Transitions, SBTRKT still manages to fray the edges despite the commanding rhythm of bass-kicks and snares. Typewriting noises and squelching fragments trail over the backdrop, contributing to the off-focus, almost-meditative quality that diffuses throughout this series. 6.5
2. Hold the Line
This flipside is a delicately balanced affair, where digitally-processed clicks interlock with crackling snares and bleeping synths that turn crystalline. As his melodies rise and fall, SBTRKT scrapes subtle details upon the background, such as the barely-audible textures that cut and stutter like transmission errors over the line. The soundscape fills to breaking point when a low bass and subtle chimes are inserted to release tension—and soon after, the track wanders off.7.5
3. Kyoto
Beginning with the slow march of warm, fuzzy chord-intonations, “Kyoto” is anthemic of sun-kissed adolescence. A faded pentatonic synth, wobbly as if filtering through heat in air, chants intrusively at first but is looped until it melts over. Hazy summer days seem to creep out from the songs fabric, evoked by the airiness of SBTRKT’s dusty snare and the sincerity of his blistering bubble-synth. Simple but effective, this track leaves a languid smile on one’s face.8.0
4. Resolute
Orchestrating several lines of candied 8-bit synthesizers, SBTRKT programs a whirling, dazzling account of the future. Spacey video-game chords and the skip-and-pop of scalloped tones drift through this arrangement, somehow conveying a sense of determination despite their sugary timbre. “Resolute” drops into a frantic array of twinkling computer-signals, with hi-hats providing a faltering stop-and-start motion. This B-side will have you nodding (with the occasional mechanical jerk) by the time the bass lumbers in.8.0
5. Highs and Lows
Transitions has plenty of glitter, but “Highs and Lows” sparkles in excess; in this way, it is reminiscent of Cashmere Cat, or Rustie’s Glass Swords LP, in their nauseating use of epic beats and cheesy starry-eyed melodies. Matching an upbeat rhythm with grand-orchestral chord-stabs, one is transported to some ecstatic rave, where even the darkest moments have an inspirational tone. Therefore, the title refers more to the song’s contrast in pitch-frequency, rather than any fluctuations in its elated mood. Yet in spite of this writer’s prejudice against cloying melodies, the song is saved by percussive textures: buzzing bassnotes, rattling trap percussions, and a twinkling sound that unfolds pleasantly in your ear.6.0
6. Stifle
“Stifle” is wrought from the symbiosis between tribal and dubstep percussions, scattering wooden drums across a down-tempo 140BPM beat. An exercise in minimalism, SBTRKT alternates between monochromatic tones and serrated digital-arpeggios, allowing different densities to arise from their spatial relationships. The whole track is washed out in reverb and repetitious melodic patterns, encouraging introspection through cyclical motion and accentuation of negative space. Though abstract at times, the drop brings the listener back with low-slung riddims that hit all the right spots.7.5
Written by Justin Kwok
Justin Kwok is a Media Studies major at UC Berkeley, but daydreams of being an instrumentalist in some electronic duo. He enjoys deep bass music and psychedelia.

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