Its been almost three years since Zomby released his debut album Where Were You in ’92, a rave album paying homage to early 90’s dance culture. With antiquated gear such as the Akai S2000 and Atari ST, he impressed critics with his production skills as well as his enthusiastic authenticity.
Most Americans may not know or care but its an exciting time for UK musicians with the onset of the post-dubstep environment. Burial’s brilliant hybrid of jungle, two-step garage, dark breakbeats and ambient jump-started a stale club scene in 2007, creating an alter ego of dubstep. Artists like Shackleton, Demdike Stare and Zomby took this as their cue and began pushing the Dubstep envelope further into the realms of sci-fi, fantasy, ambient and exotica.
Dedication is an antithesis of sorts. This is not only a departure from the party aesthetic but a quite cerebral and melancholy outing that may not set well with most. Zomby has lost someone important in his life and this really feels like a dedication to that person.
“Witch Hunt” opens the album with a surprising and quirky DJ Screw style crunk number more appropriate in Houston circa 1993. This screwed and purple dranking track leads into “Natalia’s Song”, one that feels like early bedroom dubstep. He chops ethereal female vocals and quickly delves deep into ominous terrain. “Alothea” feels serious and thought provoking with its somber and introspective shuffle that abruptly gives way to “Black Orchid”, the first cut on the record that really jumped out at me. His synth stabs are incredible here. It feels like a tasteful Nintendo music segway.
“Riding with Death” reflects the best in ambient and minimal dub techno a la Basic Channel / Chain Reaction. As soon as this gets deep, he drops out into another sick and twisted hip hop number that just skitters around my concept of time signatures. Shortly thereafter, a gunshot fires and the star child himself, Panda Bear, appears from nowhere in what is sure to be a hit at the top of many lists this year. The unfortunate part of this “Things Fall Apart” equation is that Panda Bear will benefit from this collaboration far more than Zomby. Its a great song that could have been just as good with another vocalist.
Following “Salamander”, a brief encounter with Arthur Lyman, and “Lucifer” a lovely fifty-seven second ballad, he returns to the dj booth with “After the Rain”, one that pumps and confuses the dancefloor. Is it dancehall? Is it house? Is it hip hop? This is the best production work on the album.
“Vanquish” is the extremely dark and depressing fifty-nine seconds before “A Devil Lay Here”, a beautiful piece that really profiles this artist’s vast array of influences and recording techniques. “Florence” is interesting because its technically an intelligent jungle piece in under two minutes. I wish I’d heard this in 1996 when I was really into that genre.
I truly love “Haunted” and “Basquiat” because I’m a sucker for the classic house piano and string tradition. It still touches me in a nostalgic way incomparable to anything else. “Mosaik” is a great dancefloor cut that could have been more enjoyable had it been placed somewhere else in the mix. After the vibe he seemed to be going for, it seemed awkward to end the album on an upswing. That being said, this is a startlingly mature and accomplished album.
Zomby has been signed to 4AD. Some will scoff, some will approve, but I applaud the label for giving more exposure to such an interesting sound. Can’t wait to have this one on wax.