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White Noise: Zomby – Dedication

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Zomby – Dedication

Natalia's Song

Digital Rain

A Devil Lay Here

Zomby is not exactly known in the world of production for being an agreeable person to work with. A frequent no-show at his scheduled performances including a gig at this year's ATP, he seems to have carried this image forward to this, his second full LP and his first on major label 4AD in which he constantly gives the audience almost what they want; a deeply talented but frustratingly mischievous artist who doesn't quite hit the highs he could so easily achieve.

This is nothing like any of his previous material, least of all his previous album, the fantastic rave-pastiche LP Where Were U In '92? - the only brief nod to rave is a klaxon introducing Panda Bear collab Things Fall Apart (hopefully named after the Chinua Achebe novel rather than the 50 Cent track), and while Lennox's vocals are better implemented than his turn in Pantha Du Prince's Stick To My Side, the track is no album standout.

The reason for this is that there is an awful lot of good material over these 16 songs, although unfortunately some seem all too brief. But to stay with the positive for a moment, there are some truly brilliant moments here. Nod to Burial Natalia's Song includes a controversial vocal sample but it's a great track consisting of an elastic beat and two layers of vocals, one a clipped breath tuned to percussion and the other the desperate vocal line that attempts to soar beyond the music but is never allowed to escape and complete the phrase, resulting in a dark and deeply claustrophobic early album standout. Alothea's intricate percussion is punctured by untreated synths and a gloriously deep bassline, feeding into the short but gorgeous Black Orchid which evolves naturally, raising classic 8-bit noises to the level of an epic, swirling symphony. Riding With Death is a darker cut that readies us for the game-y onslaught of Vortex which is a ferocious mangle of oppressive nintendo noise and background sounds, completed by off-kilter percussion that sounds like it's swirling around your head, earning the track its name.

Lucifer transitions nicely into another highlight, the icy Digital Rain which takes its cue from earlier Zomby release Digital Flora / Fauna with skittering synths over an arpeggiated backing and can-opening beats that sound almost like a parody of Burial's signature style. Another cue taken from the earlier EP is the frequent abandoning of outros which rather than being thrillingly disconcerting is realised as a series of irritatingly jarring moments when the album is listened to as a whole, such as between Black Orchid and Riding With Death. A Devil Lay Here is a racing and haunted journey through an electronic underworld, and in closer Mozaik a fantastically transformative beat is coupled with cascading synths and snappy snares in a sparse composition that shows how much Zomby can do with so little; a skittering, pacy and satisfying conclusion to an album for which 'satisfying' is not always an applicable word.

This is because a fair amount of the shorter tracks (3 clocking in at under a minute) are too slight. While electronic giants Boards of Canada and hugely influential producer J Dilla mastered the art of creating shorter tracks which feel like fully formed pieces, too many of Zomby's cuts feel as if they're moving somewhere, creating an expectation that is ultimately frustrated. While some like Vanquish work in short form, tracks like Salamander, Lucifer and Florence each feel like they could be stretched out into something great. This makes the album too frequently sound like a series of sketches, and although when listened to as a whole they flow justifiably from one track to another, it occasionally it feels as if there should be more to grab onto on these tracks.

This is a serious problem that will irritate on first listen, but after spending time with the album it's hard to care too much. There are so many excellent tracks here with immaculately detailed production (tellingly they are usually the longer ones), and Zomby's versatility as a producer is worthy of a huge amount of respect – that the album can flow from the eery witch house of opener Witch Hunt to the mournful piano of Basquiat and still sound coherent is an astonishing feat. So give it a go because this truly is the work of an amazingly talented producer, even if it may occasionally leave you wishing he'd settle and put in the time to flesh some of these pieces out rather than just making teaser-like showcases.


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