Being one of the more exciting acts in modern electronic music, new material from Zomby is always met with a certain amount of fanfare. A man who knows the media currency of self-mythology, the former London resident now spends his time across the Atlantic in New York, seemingly overseeing ever more strident efforts in which to play both fans and haters alike.
At times posturing as a self-made UK underground cultural messiah, the enigmatic and perplexing production talent excels in conveying ever more (self)obsessive opinions online, calling out any potential non-believers – whether they be teenage fan, fellow producer or respected scribe. Following 2011’s Dedication, a peerless album charged with well-documented personal emotion and a sleek, sparse, subterranean aesthetic, Zomby returns to 4AD with a 33 track, two volume long player entitled With Love.
The Zomby staples are sewn throughout each track as keenly as ever, presenting a palette of ghostly rhythmic melodies, gunshots, stifling bass chords, interlocking, mirror-sharp snares and various vocal samples. It also seems doubtless that some of the music on offer isn’t all that new, with opening track ‘As Darkness Falls’ sounding much like a cut off from debut collection Where Were U In ’92? – all smoked-out synth triplets and shuffling, muffled percussion. The UK pioneer has certainly lost none of the rudeboy dread of his earliest productions as tracks like ‘It’s Time’, ‘Overdose’ and the deadened yet blisteringly good ‘777’ echo the heyday of Dr. S Gachet, Phantasy and a generation of ravers brought up on tumbling amen drums, pummelling bass stabs and skittering jungle rhythms.
Elsewhere continued experiments in trap yield varied results, with the majority of Volume Two investigating a brand of mournful, ashen Deep South inflections, with anguished orchestral melodies meeting cold, hard slabs of bass – hugely successful in the yearning qualities of tracks like ‘Glass Ocean’, yet more a lumpen representation of earlier tracks in the collection in compositions such as ‘Soliloquy’. Zomby does however, do creeping better than most. The low-riding vigour of ‘Pray For Me’ is ready built for skunk-smoking, head-nodding club crowds, whilst the heady mix of bullying kicks and strutting synth harmonies in ‘VxV’ are up there with the best of the harder Dedication-era cuts. Special mention also has to go out to young London bass producer Last Japan, who’s initially surprising collaboration ‘Pyrex Nights’ has all the bluster and low-swung grit you’d expect to hear rumbling through the backstreets of Virginia.
With Love does offer up genuine moments of alchemy, with a flurry of creativity present throughout Volume One. The coupling of ‘If I Will’ – all polyrhythmic woodblocks and restructured vocals – with the following guitar bass stomp and cut r’n’b samples of ‘Isis’ make for classic Zomby album material, whilst ‘Rendezvous’ crawls along amid searing, lonely synths and Brandy’s vocals pitched to perfection. ‘VI-XI’ however is a stand-out lesson in unreleased tension, as a 4/4 kick underlines a ringing rave stab, occasionally slowed by the tripping rimshot percussion of Zomby’s dubstep past.
Shortened sketches and a constant drift from one outline to another is a Zomby staple, but never quite as frustrating as the music contained within With Love. Considering the sheer number of tracks on offer, you could halve the tracklist, extend a number of passing productions and have a stronger release for it. As ever, the ambient compositions on offer are exemplary, with ‘Black Rose’ and the title track bookending Volume Two to a high standard, and the looped, pensive orchestra of ‘Memories’ leading into a digital tabla rhythm that once heard, is hard to shake.
What With Love does do is hold up a mirror to a generation of music fans who bought tape packs, heard the future in jungle or experienced the life changing properties of a reese bassline in the chest, digging deep to reformat this music’s motifs and themes into ever changing shapes and colours. And Zomby is nothing if not current. A manipulative obsession with the media industry and self-image, coldness towards others and suppressed anger are all supposedly common themes in modern culture, and in just being Zomby, a mirror image of an attention-seeking yet concentration-deprived media world comes into appearance. What With Love lacks in the direction and emotion of its predecessor, unfortunately isn’t made up for in the wealth of material on offer, yet this is still a release worthy of repeat listens.
With Love is available now via 4AD.