sat 22/06/2024

Album: SBTRKT - THE RAT ROAD | reviews, news & interviews



SBTRKT scratches that seven-year itch with an album that covers a LOT of bases

'He’s turned up the volume on all the parts of his creative identity'

Aaron Jerome has always cut his own path through British music. After a few jazzy, groovy experiments under his own name in the 00s, he came dramatically to prominence at the end of that decade as SBTRKT. He was always associated with the post-dubstep moment where the UK bass subcultures of dubstep and grime folded back into house and techno, launching big names like Hessle Audio and Disclosure – but in fact he didn’t quite fit there.

There was always something a bit restless about his music. As a British Asian producer coming to fame working with a Black singer (Sampha) yet making music that was as much indie as it was dance, soundsystem or soul, it felt like his releases were in a category of their own.

It’s been seven years since the last SBTRKT release, and in the meantime the world seems to have caught up a little. In the age of Arlo Parks, Space Afrika, Little Simz, The Comet Is Coming and dozens of others, there is far more of a sense now that British artists of colour can be, broadly speaking, alternative on terms of their own, without being pulled hither and thither by scene and sound demands. The boundaries have blurred, too, between pop and traditionally dance and “urban” categories. And it’s into this environment that THE RAT ROAD throws itself wholeheartedly. It feels like Jerome has decided not to compromise on anything: quite the opposite, in fact, he’s turned up the volume on all the parts of his creative identity.

So there’s more experimental electronica here, more dub, more indie, more hip hop, more jazz, more R&B, more soul, and a whole lot more pop. There’s a cascade of voices from grime national treasure D Double E (whose “biddybopbop” refrain even your gran could recognise from his IKEA commercial) through old friends Sampha and Little Dragon and American fellow misfit Toro Y Moi, to prominent features from new London voice Leilah. And it feels entirely natural, like Jerome has grown into his own musical ambition. Over 22, mostly short, tracks, it has an unerring feel of a night-ride through London, sometimes overwhelming, but often – as on “No Intention”, “Limitless”, “Drift” and the surging title track – instantly, affectingly beautiful. There is a LOT to digest here, and it takes complete immersion to really appreciate the totality of the record. But the fact that it does work, very naturally, as a whole, and that Jerome has had the boldness to go all the way with it, is joyful in itself.


Listen to "No Intention"

It has an unerring feel of a night-ride through London, sometimes overwhelming, but often instantly, affectingly beautiful


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters