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’23 Album Roundup: SBTRKT Returns With “THE RAT ROAD”

It was more than a decade ago when SBTRKT first burst onto the electronic scene and the airwaves on the back of his frenetic, Little Dragon-assisted single, “WILDFIRE.” True to its title, the track became a breakout hit and spread across the music industry at the speed of light, culminating in an “OVO Remix” of the track that notched a rare electronic cut into Drake’s catalog. After his second full-length, Wonder Where We Land, it’s been radio silence from the Aussie producer until at long last SBTRKT’s third, THE RAT ROAD.

SBTRKT’s THE RAT ROAD Brings Together An Eclectic, High-Octane Cast

As an interesting aside and full circle moment, SBTRKT again looked north of the border to open his third album cycle. “FORWARD,” clocking in towards the midpoint of this project, served as the backing music for Drake and 21 Savage’s announcement video for their Her Loss. It was a nice bit of foreshadowing on the producer’s part, as the half-dozen collaborators featured on THE RAT ROAD bring contributions that are just as stellar as his behind the boards work.

With a few exceptions, each artist who walks down SBTRKT’s RAT ROAD makes multiple trips. Teezo Touchdown, the hip-hop feature de jour like on For All The Dogs and Utopia, opens and closes the record with his “WAITING” and the penultimate title track, and chips in a typically soulful performance. Toro y Moi checks in for “DEMONS” and its companion piece “DAYS GO BY,” a “where does the time go” stream-of-consciousness meditation that’s easily one of the brightest highlights.

For those unfamiliar with SBTRKT’s previous work, the biggest shock is Sampha’s name listed twice, a continuation of a fruitful collaborative history established on the producer’s previous full-lengths. Both his appearances are stellar, starting with “L.F.O” alongside George Riley, a slinking, cloudy house duet that lives up to the star power of its credits. But on “LIMITLESS,” his second appearance, it has to be said—somehow the British singer is outshined. That’s because he stars alongside LEILAH, the clear co-star of this project with her 4 credits, and somehow an artist with not much of a backlog outside of her work here.

Taken from @sbtrkt on Instagram.

The Australian Producer’s Third Project Births An Unlikely Star

On that track, she delivers one of the most gripping vocal performances you’ll hear in any electronic music released in 2023, peaking with her lyrics on the chorus: “Just like you / Just like me, we self-destruct / Just like new times, my will still can’t reach deep enough.” Though he may play second chair by a slight margin, Sampha is also excellent here, and their combined efforts make this just an incredible song all around.

Of her three remaining songs, “NO INTENTION” sees SBTRKT and LEILAH combine for soundtrack-worthy chillwave, “FORWARD” in its full version leaves no doubts why the Toronto MC chose it as backing music, and “DRIFT” is gorgeous in its understated composition.

Cutting in between those cinematic pieces are SBTRKT’s solo interludes, where he uses the space allotted to venture into every manner of electronic subgenre you can think of. There are breakbeat drum and bass moments (“YOU, LOVE”), moments where he veers closer to the dubstep-adjacent bag of past eras (“YOU BROKE MY HEART BUT IMMA FIX IT”), and some near vaporwave expressions that serve as great palette cleansers, and effortlessly move the arc of the project forward.

At least in this writer’s opinion, it’s a shame that SBTRKT’s THE RAT ROAD has flown under the radar, perhaps a victim of a front-loaded release calendar and a long layoff between projects. If you’re among those who haven’t caught wind of this project already, we can’t recommend it highly enough. The album is available now wherever you get your music.

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