A friend of mine described SAVE YOURSELF, the latest release from London-based producer SBTRKT (pronounced like your least-favorite arithmetic operation), as “musical blue balls.” Indeed, while the project provides a healthy serving of the producer’s distinct sound—somewhere between indie pop, electronica, and post-dubstep—it lacks a definitive tone or direction; the eight songs comprise an array of stripped-down beats and accompanying vocals that convey emotion only, not narrative. The project, as such, is not a traditional album but, as its maker argues, a piece meant to be paired with the additional content provided by the artist. Along with a stream of the music, a website (http://saveyourself.tv) displays an expanded version of the cover art, further visuals, and words from SBTRKT himself (for once eschewing capital letters), explaining the motivation for the release: “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… I’m reflecting my constant state of nostalgia for the future. A dark optimism, for one that seems ever far reaching.” This self-reflection borders on self-consciousness, and though it informs the project’s eclectic sonic range, it doesn’t clearly come through in the songs themselves.
The cover art is the first indication that something is up. Divergent from SBTRKT’s typical souped-up tribal designs, SAVE YOURSELF’s cover looks like a Martian drive-in movie theater, and it sets a discomfiting tone for the listener before even hearing the first beat. And though SBTRKT’s anxiety recurs sporadically, especially during the industrial beat-driven “LET THEM IN,” the finished product reflects a more diverse set of feelings, stabilized by the featured artists. The standout guest is R&B singer The-Dream, who appears on three tracks; a hook and verse from rapper D.R.A.M, best known for his club hit “Cha Cha,” fall disappointingly out of place in contrast.
The strongest song off SAVE YOURSELF is “GOOD MORNING,” which was released as a pseudo-single days before the general release. The-Dream’s voice mingles with spacey synths to produce a combination that is almost radio friendly (a rarity for any SBTRKT release). However, the track’s lyrics belie SBTRKT’s stated purpose for the record; “Sitting back watching Boomerang Tom and Jerry / Tom and Jerry, Tom and Jerry,” begins the catchy, but puerile first verse. Moments like the closing track, “BURY YOU,” seem to adhere more closely to the mission statement. Here, The-Dream’s voice is morphed into a cloudy sound reminiscent of James Blake, and the words epitomize the confused emotions of the record: The-Dream slowly croons, “Getting my story together / So I can tell it to whoever needs to know.”
Fans of SBTRKT have become accustomed to unfamiliar sounds from an ever-transforming artist. True to form, SAVE YOURSELF runs the gamut of SBTRKT’s range–sometimes strange, always different. For example, the opening track, “GEMINI,” is as welcoming as SBTRKT instrumentals get, but drops or heavy bass aren’t present in that track or any other. SBTRKT continues to defy mainstream electronica, sticking to his versatile synths and clean drums. And though he meant to deliver a multimedia interpretation of the sociopolitical climate, through what he called his “most interesting musical stories… to date,” what he has really left us with is a handful of idiosyncratically discordant new tracks. This is still a gift—at the end of the day, SBTRKT makes great music—but SAVE YOURSELF falls far short of its thematic goals.