Album Review: SAVE YOURSELF – SBTRKT

SBTRKT (sub-tract) returned with a surprise release and his first since 2014’s Wonder Where We Land. Reflecting the innovative production that saw his 2011 self-titled debut cemented as one of the top electronic albums of the decade, SAVE YOURSELF’s 8-tracks feature collaborations from The-Dream, D.R.A.M, Sampha, and Mabel.

Released as a conceptual project alongside featured artwork and an animation, SAVE YOURSELF, appeared online at www.saveyourself.tv complete with a mission statement from the masked man himself: “While a complete piece with a beginning, end and visual concepts that have been worked on over many months, this is not an album.” He continued, “This record was written from last summer til last week and is about being able to share music with you more frequently than I have done in the past, and not long after its been created.

Despite reflecting SBTRKT’s ambient and stripped-back production the album is steeped in strong messages that relate to the music industry’s creative destruction: “Though perhaps more importantly than how, why SAVE YOURSELF is coming now has to do with the current cultural and sociopolitical climate. Culturally, albums now feel like a means to prove you are a “real” artist. To release an album, you turn yourself over to traditional label cycles and the end of increasing sales, leaving behind the creative spirit that brought the music to life in the first place.

The album moves in a progressive manner from the opener “Gemini”, with its harmonising synths and moon-landing feel, into the second track “Good Morning”. One of four The-Dream collaborations on the album, “Good Morning” is a surprisingly spectacular mix of airy vocals and expansive production. The lyrics “I’m alone, on the way to my tomb/ I’m alone, all the way to the moon/ you’re the girl that I’m gonna marry” might appear like a sub-standard The-Dream song, but context is everything, and they fit perfectly with the rhetoric of the album.

I Feel Your Pain”, featuring Virginia native D.R.A.M and BBC Sound of 2016’s longlist artist Mabel, is a blissful three and half minutes of regret, heartache and reminiscent anecdotes. These features reiterate the strength of SBTRKT’s decision making when it comes to his own production,and rightly so – the track was named as the Hottest Record in the World with Annie Mac on BBC Radio One.

No SBTRKT album would be complete without a feature from long-time collaborator Sampha. After earning his stars on previous SBTRKT releases the Londoner has gone on to release two of his own E.P’s, while appearing on everything from Drake to Jessie Ware‘s tracks. “TBD” is a floaty track with pulsing kick-drums and falsetto harmonies fronted by the talented Sampha. Echoing the vocal/production structure of previous work, “TBD” sounds like a B-side from Wonder Where We Land but is very much alive in the context of SAVE YOURSELF.

The second-half of the album features two The-Dream collaborations, “Revert” and “Bury You”. Both tracks are full of space and the vocals snake from speaker to speaker like cigarette smoke in the light of a lamp. “Bury You” invokes a very early-morning feel and wouldn’t be amiss on an album from The Weeknd. These tracks are interpolated by two instrumental tracks, “Ready or Not” and “Let Them In”, both of which spark energy into the release. “Ready or Not” is especially impressive and features billowing synths and syncopated drumming that ignite in unison to create something quite special. “Let Them In” is much darker and more experimental, using deep basses and distorted filters, the end result is dystopian in every sense of the word.

All round, SAVE YOURSELF is an exciting and surprising new release from an artist who never ceases to amaze. The resilience and consistency that SBTRKT has applied to his music in the past few years is impressive, and I would encourage you all to check out his older stuff. With that in mind, SAVE YOURSELF is definitely something new for SBTRKT. A collaborative project featuring artists, animators and musicians, SAVE YOURSELF is a statement of intent:

The title SAVE YOURSELF and the visuals reflect my personal mood on what’s happening in the world and society on a macro and micro level. Whether that be racism, xenophobia, the environment or irresponsible greedy politicians. All this while thinking about how incredible it will be when humans actually reach and settle on another planet. As an artist it feels strange to me to create simply happy music without being effected by current world affairs. Through the music too, I’m reflecting my constant state of nostalgia for the future. A dark optimism, for one that seems ever far reaching. So the title and artwork reflect this. Where we go next but also where we are now.

SAVE YOURSELF is available on iTunes and Spotify.

Check out the animated short by A Hidden Place that accompanies the album below.