Since donning the SBTRKT mask (quite literally; DJ appearances are undertaken behind an oversized African tribal headpiece), one time broken beat producer Aaron Jerome has become far more famous for the booming intensity and restless rhythms of his current pseudonym than the sweet soul of his previous production life. Tracks like “Soundboy Shift” and the growling “Midnight Marauder” (the latter a collaboration with old pal Sinden) worked dancefloors hard and earned him a whole new legion of fans within the “bass music” community, but lacked the subtlety and cute musicality of his early bruk and modern soul excursions.
It’s something of a pleasant surprise, then, to see Jerome returning to his musical roots on this first SBTRKT long player. While the shuffling dubstep rhythms, future garage grooves and hurried broken beats remain, they’re the mere building blocks of something altogether more musically adventurous. The overriding feel is one of sassy soulfulness. The majority of the tracks come complete with deliciously emotional vocals courtesy of collaborators Sampha, Roses Gabor, Jessie Ware and Little Dragon. These, coupled with Jerome’s way with a melody and heavyweight low-end extortions, ensure that the album seemingly sparkles from the speakers like a rainbow popping out from between the clouds. With such a sharp focus on soulfulness and musicality, highlights come thick and fast. Check the sweet UKG/UK funky rhythms of “Right Thing To Do” (think T Williams’ “Heartbeat”), the sparkling soulful house pulse of “Pharoahs” or the spine tingling tropical sweeps of “Never Never”; all aptly demonstrate Jerome’s talent for fusing genuine soul music with contemporary dancefloor styles.
As such, SBTRKT should probably be viewed as a modern soul album rather than a genuine dancefloor set. While each of the individual tracks will do the business in a club, SBTRKT offers far more than basic, no-frills dancefloor fodder. It’s a sophisticated and well-rounded set that deserves a wider audience than the DJ following he’s already built up.