To say Aaron Jerome, the man behind the neon future-tribal mask, spent much of the past three years on the down-low is a wild understatement. But this six-track instrumental EP, his first collection of officially released material since his 2011 debut as SBTRKT, seems like an incidental apology for his time away. The Transitions EP was announced by SBTRKT, and upon its release tracks were distributed and shared on Jerome’s SoundCloud and personal website. On iTunes and Spotify, though, the EP is nowhere to be found.
SBTRKT has always had a keen eye for visual art, and this release takes it one step further with artist and animation studio collaborations to design Transitions and its other multimedia components. This sensory stimulus has seeped into the music, with songs that are more visceral and dynamic than most of his previous material. It’s not just the intensity that makes Transitions such a beautiful, ecstasy-induced sigh of relief after 36-odd months of separation anxiety. The EP preceding his second full-length album is more meticulous, more strenuous and all-consuming. The songs manifest in darkly vacuous landscapes, sometimes engulfed twenty thousand leagues under the sea, other times whirring in the deep recesses of outer space. These tight, airless venues are the only way to contain the chaos.
EP opener “Gamalena” feels like a tribal induction to the euphonic calamity that is soon to follow. The piercing mantra of fire alarm bird chirps whizz and whoosh in and out of the fore, giving way to the force of pedantic synth lines that sound maniacal and demented. “Hold The Line” is hard-fast and tremulous, disturbing in its frenetic syncopation. Initially subdued, the track confronts sonic turmoil in the form of spiraling synth arpeggios that escalate to incredulous heights. The sustaining bass notes are the only thing to cling to, everything else is floating ethereal nothingness like dust motes in rays of sunlight.
“Kyoto” starts off similarly reserved, mellow and anxiously lethargic. Then SBTRKT introduces a series of alternating techno arias and synth-washed hi-hat textures, furious hype grenades among the discordant IDM hysteria. The glitch-hop sensibility rolls over onto the next cut “Resolute,” unabashed in its allegiance to all things crunk. The rapturous, whistle-blowing beat sounds the most like his previous album, but still feels ferocious and fresh. “High + Lows” features amiable jackhammer rhythms, what sounds like rushing water over bamboo rods. To detail the number of sonic tributaries showcased on this dance number is enough to drive a brother mad. Closer “Stifle” might be the least involved track, but I find myself returning to it with greater interest on each rotation. Dark, hip-hop-tinged textures are complemented by a dejectedly slow BPM. The protruding bass part is so low, you don’t hear it so much as feel it. The keys are lucid and wild, like the high-pitched blare of a VHS tape being rewound at incomprehensible speeds. Watch the video for “Kyoto” below.