The producer’s debut for 4AD explores his more melodic side.
Louis Pattison 2011
It takes a certain amount of guts these days to be a DJ/producer playing the ‘anonymous auteur’ card. Sure, it invests your music with a certain intrigue; helps, too, that you don’t have to spend too much time on interviews explaining why your music is or isn’t post-dubstep, future garage, or any other spurious collection of words cooked up by an excitable young citizen of the blogosphere. Fact is, though, that there’s so many wannabees out there right now hustling for attention that if you’re going to zip your hoodie over your face in photoshoots and slack off pretty much every DJ slot anyone’s ever booked you for, you’d better make damn sure that your music is going to merit a fourth listen.
Luckily, the music of Zomby does – not that it’s that easy to pin down. Earlier releases have marked him out as a denizen of the post-rave diaspora, marshalling lurking dubstep bass, 16-bit sound effects, and on his debut album Where Were U In ‘92, a purposefully nutty love-letter to the hardcore era, all crashing breakbeats, airhorns and ragga toasting. Also present in his music, though, is a sort of ascetic centre – an emotional quality in some ways reminiscent of his peer Burial, but also redolent of Aphex Twin’s more melodic ambient work.
Dedication, Zomby’s debut LP for 4AD, resolves to explore this side of his music a little more fully. Recorded in tribute "to someone much loved and missed", it is a far more subtle collection than …In ‘92. Natalia’s Song, with its yearning synth and cut-up vocal line, is reminiscent of Burial, but throws in a wildcard of gentle, minor-key piano. Things Fall Apart, pixel-like melodies scattered over a snappy grime beat, boasts a sombre vocal from Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. And the drill’n’bass-ish Florence is exquisite in its construction, all beats like butterfly wings and synths so slender they might break in a strong wind.
The beauty of Dedication is the way it takes a sound palette familiar to the dancefloor, but uses it to paint an unfamiliar picture. When gunshots ring out on Witch Hunt, a wisp of choral synth and flickering snare, it feels less like a gangsta move and more like a metaphor only its maker understands. He probably won’t elaborate. Credit to this fine record that, when you actually listen to it, the need for explanation feels like the last thing on your mind.