Welcome to Check Your Mode

The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


Two months after the second wave of post-dubstep artists inspired debate within the electronic music community, out of nowhere comes lumbering Aaron Jerome, the man behind electronic outfit, SBTRKT. Listening to Jerome’s self-titled debut, it’s clear that the man is operating on the same plane as the purported Holy Trinity of dubstep dilution: James Blake’s self titled, Jamie Woon’s Mirrorwriting and Katy B’s On A Mission. It seems unfair to analyze SBTRKT in constant reference to those three records, but I’m just tactless and hypocritical enough to do so!

SBTRKT, more so than James Blake, Mirrorwriting or On a Mission, tapers to the traditional qualities of dubstep; music not quite made for the mainstream clubs like Katy B’s, but still capable of some pretty affecting grooves. Jerome often features female singers to carry catchy vocal lines and even recruits lauded hip-hop moper Drake to grunt on the “Barbara Streisand”-like “Ready Set Loop”. However, what you will mostly hear on SBTRKT when you are not listening to just straight up instrumental dance music will be Jerome’s voice, which sounds quite a bit like James Blake’s.

Like I mean A LOT like James Blake’s. So much so that it is often distracting. SBTRKT is a very good album; it delivers on many of its clearly identified goals. But the fact that Jerome’s voice has an almost identical tone to James Blake’s throws comparisons by the wayside to make way for debates as to whether or not SBTRKT is simply a more beat-oriented JB offshoot, even worse a mash up record.

Simplified, SBTRKT is just what I described: James Blake’s voice superimposed onto some traditional if tempered dubstep. Its harshness is watered down to suit a more streamlined listening experience, but not so much that it loses its dark edge. The album’s instrumentation is more in line with a sort of downtempo dubstep, like the recent work of artists like Guido, but artists like them tend to make the best music of that genre, so it is very possible that the combination of all these elements will make SBTRKT your favorite of the four records I have mentioned.

Taken as a whole, though, a part of me wants to dismiss SBTRKT because it is very much an album that’s context constantly gets in its way. Regardless, it is a very good product, not as rewarding as James Blake or On A Mission but still worthy of some interest. Perhaps the greatest value in SBTRKT is an indication of the movement from which it was spawned to be sputtering out, because, if artists are going to continue to make music that borrows so liberally from already established artists (or perhaps just James Blake), it’s going to become deformed from inbreeding very, very quickly. But premonition aside, SBTRKT doesn’t quite cross that line, so it’s still OK by me. 


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