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”