After a couple years of incessant gigging and social networking, South London DJ SBTRKT (né Aaron Jerome) is—at least for the next couple weeks—the preeminent export from the ever-mutating hype nebula that is UK bass culture. In terms of his countrymen and contemporaries, his first full-length SBTRKT splits the difference between the pensive experimentalism of James Blake’s eponymous debut and the more showy soulfulness of Jamie Woon’s Mirrorwriting. In other words, Jerome is a smart sound sculptor with a desire to make pop.
For the most part, he succeeds, hybridizing recent ultra-hip British dance music—2-step, garage, dubstep—with an auteur’s touch. Unlike Blake and Woon, Jerome doesn’t sing, but he smartly recruits vocalists to give his compositions personality and depth. The results are music made for both a night at the club and the lonely train ride home afterward. The rapid pulse of “Trials Of The Past” is offset by a plaintive croon from London singer Sampha, and the low, sour synth-line that periodically howls past it. Sampha appears on more than a third of SBTRKT, and his caramel voice colors the record almost as much as Jerome’s production.
Yet it’s a tribute to the rising producer that Sampha gives way to two female vocalists for the album’s best moments. Jerome casts the keening vocal of Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano in rubbery R&B vibes on the standout “Wildfire,” this year’s choice to unite (or irritate) indie-rock kids and club rats like Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” did two years ago. “Pharaohs,” starring freelance diva Roses Gabor, is a spritzy dose of early-’90s house-pop that peps up the album’s second half. There might not be anything on SBTRKT to bowl people over like Woon or Blake, but there’s plenty to stick with after the next big thing comes along.