SBTRKT: Wonder Where We Land

SBTRKT leads a disparate cast of collaborators down a rabbit hole of mismatched beats and psychotic melodies on his second LP.


Wonder Where We Land

Label: Young Turks
US Release Date: 2014-10-07
UK Release Date: 2014-09-29

High-concept collaborative albums rarely work. Drawing consistency out of a roster of totally dissimilar musicians is the task of an experienced artistic director, someone who can take on a role of leadership and find some abstract harmony with a vast range of artistic skills and temperaments. It isn’t the task of a young producer like SBTRKT, who only has one album and an assortment of remixes and EPs under his belt that, while joint efforts, are also appropriately single-minded and reserved. On Wonder Where We Land, the producer’s second full-length album, SBTRKT lets his ambition and overconfidence lead him and a class of wildly disparate collaborators into a world of foggy unknowns, resulting in a work just as fascinating and disjointed as one would expect.

The universe of the album is revealed first via the short introduction “Day 1”, where static, gliding synths gradually drift into consciousness like an approaching thunderstorm, shrouding the rest of the album in a looming darkness. Suddenly the turbulence cuts out and we’re in the deep, soft bass of Sampha-featured “Wonder Where We Land”, with SBTRKT cueing in random, sporadic noises and overtones, keeping the song off-center and unpredictable.

The various percussive clicks of the beat and off-the-wall vocal interjections (such as an arbitrary two-bar beatbox fill that comes from nowhere and never comes back) turn the otherwise straightforward song into a frenzied cacophony that is difficult to understand or follow. The music doesn’t build off itself so much as it disintegrates into and out of shape, creating formless, irregular pop. As the stilted beat of “Wonder Where We Land” shuffles in, Sampha softly croons, “impermanence is so permanently with me”, providing one of the album’s few tangible thematic statements: the only thing that’s inevitable is uncertainty.

These songs develop illogically and tangentially, veering and twisting around the guest musicians at the center, seemingly vying to make something out of the mess. This is SBTRKT’s distorted world, and as such, the producer is rarely supportive of the vocalists’ tendencies and is sometimes outwardly combative with them, forcing them to follow him down his rabbit hole of mismatched beats and psychotic melodies. Some can keep up, some cannot. SBTRKT lets Raury free on “Higher”, leaving the vocalist to apply himself to the somber hip-hop backdrop without much interference, while the producer leads A$AP Ferg astray on the awkward “Voices in My Head”, where the rapper’s strangled flow struggles against the loose swing groove of the beat.

Equally jarring is the tonal and stylistic contrast between songs. Raury’s serious-faced, confrontational honesty on “Higher” is at odds with Ezra Koenig’s playful wit on “NEW DORP. NEW YORK”, and both fight against Caroline Polachek’s eerie theatrics on “Look Away”. The battle against coherency is always interesting to behold on Wonder Where We Land, even when the music becomes uncomfortably confused, but that tension is the album’s defining quality nonetheless.

SBTRKT seems aware of the inconsistencies. The producer premiered a whopping six of the album’s tracks before release, perhaps understanding that they work just as well or better alone as they do as part of the whole. It’s not a graceful effort, or an incredibly fulfilling one. While there’s a lot to love on this album, it’s undisciplined charm reaches a point of diminishing returns that’s hard to come back from.

SBTRKT has discovered where unbridled creativity crosses over into recklessly unrestrained whimsy, and he’ll be a better artist for it. Ambition is a necessary component of success for the up-and-coming producer who’s competing with a sea of unassuming copycats and clones, but he’s found that it is possible to go too far. Even the album’s title implies that SBTRKT is flying by the seat of his pants, unsure of his direction through the whole affair. That’s admirable in some respects, but every work of art needs to know where it’s going, lest it just drift away.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.