REVIEW: SBTRKT – “Wonder Where We Land”

Before hitting play on SBTRKT’s “Wonder Where We Land”, I really wasn’t sure what to expect at the start of the album. I was literally going to wonder where it would land, much as the title suggests. Essentially two releases in one, it felt as though this would be a marathon, not a sprint, especially in today’s entertainment industry.
The album opens to a very minimal beginning, with a title track that is reminiscent of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” to a certain extent. It picks up as the song progresses, but the beginning was eerily similar. The opener is followed by “Lantern”, which is hauntingly good, with an agitated synth line that could be replicated by your favorite EDM artist while the beat builds. Guest vocalist Raury takes an interesting route on “Higher” with verses that match the rapid hi-hat on the track. A few songs in and all is well.

Another track with a feature, “Look Away”, featuring Caroline Polachek is very well crafted. The song mixes trap music, autotune, and dozens of effects in a way that somehow makes it all tolerable. However, we progress to hit a skid. “Osea” kind of takes me out of the mood of the album. It feels long, even though it clocks in at 2:39, and to be frankly honest, seems like pointless ambience. It’s SBTRKT being electronic artists for the sake of being electronic artists, really. “Temporary View”, featuring the first of Sampha’s appearances, brings you right back in, however. Part EDM, part R&B, Sampha makes this song as well as his later appearances that much better of a song overall. With features everywhere, SBTRKT provide a great canvas for other artists to vocally paint.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear how the group approached Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig’s cameo on “NEW DORP. NEW YORK”; turning it into a jazzy, artsy, three minute vacation from the rest of the album. For everything that “Osea” didn’t do well as a song, this track still managed to be different, but fit in with the project. “Everybody Knows” and “Problem (Solved)” are both their own separate tracks from the overall feel of the album as well, complimenting the female lead vocals on both.

Sampha comes back to shine on “If It Happens” and appears to do his best Ezra Koenig impression on “Gon Stay”, which follows. On all of Sampha’s guest verses, it seems that SBTRKT’s sound compliments him perfectly, and vice versa. Denai Moore picks up the tempo where he Sampha left off with “The Light”, and the most unusual cameo of the first segment of the album comes with closer “Voices In My Head”, which features A$AP Ferg and Warpaint. Although it’s not as bad as you would possibly anticipate, it is still a somewhat awkward track, and could explain why it is buried at the end of disc/side/whatever it’s called on digital format one.

The second section is essentially an EP, with it’s own separate feel. Six extra tracks begin with “Forgotten”, a minute of Raury’s stuttering, generally off-beat thoughts. A great prelude to the rest of this section. “Paper Cuts” has an electro meets 8-bit vibe, and lacks nothing in composition. Four features on three songs make up the bulk of this section, and all are done fairly well. Warpaint is beautifully showcased on the spacy, rapid “War Drums”. Boogie provides the first real rap verse on the album on “Spaced Out”, and Sampha makes yet another appearance alongside Andrew Ashong on “Maybe”. The album closes with “Decemberist”, a bouncy, tripped out finisher that probably sounds even better live than it does on record.

All in all, given the two different feelings, and the length of this release, SBTRKT probably could’ve milked these tracks into two projects. Or, a little more cynically speaking, they could have been more critical of themselves and put out a more solid one-section project. Where there are bright spots, there are faults nearby, and that balances the album out to me. Listen for yourself below and decide:

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