Release Date: Jul 12, 2011
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Club/Dance
The UK Bass scene may very well have found its answer to J. Dilla’s Donuts. On Dedication, his second full-length and first release with indie stalwart 4AD, the enigmatic Zomby has crafted a deeply personal album that showcases his ability to put his own stamp on nearly any style of music. An album concerned as much with Zomby’s characteristic bleeps and bloops as it is with southern rap, Dedication is perhaps the only record this year that could feasibly draw favorable comparisons to Burial, Lex Luger and Steve Reich depending upon where you drop the needle.
Where were you in '92? Where were you in '92? Where were you in '92? Nope, not a reference to Zomby's first album, proper, released back in '08. Well, not directly anyway. It's not particularly a reference to M.I.A. either, as much as the people that turned Arulpragasam's agitprop art into a unit-shifting science.
I want to say that Zomby's Dedication confounds expectations, but when "surprising" is par for the course, how does one deal with expectations? Dedication arrives not on previous homes Hyperdub or RAMP but indie mega 4AD. Nonetheless, it's similar to past material, a resumption of his penchant for cheekily brief tracks and hyperactive loops. The titular Dedication is apparently aimed towards Zomby's deceased father, and the entire album carries a solemn and sepulchral quality previously unheard from Zomby.
It’s hard to review Zomby the artist because Zomby the man is such a frank, honest, elusive character. He’ll disappear for what seems like forever and then suddenly some lucky journalist will catch him in an email or AIM conversation and his soul will be laid bare. Everything about Zomby the man will come straight out into you—through your eyes to your brain—and you’ll wonder how putting a number on such a person is even valuable.
Dubstep producer Zomby's debut album – 2008's Where Were U in '92? – was a slightly askance glance back at the rave era. There are echoes of that here – the vocal sample in Natalia's Song somehow conjures up a marooned, decimated clubland. But Dedication is informed by a more pronounced, creeping sense of loss. The album was being finished in the aftermath of its creator's father's death, and it's impossible to know just how much that impacted on the sound, but Zomby has created an album of pensive, thought-provoking sadness.
Titled in reference to Zomby’s father, who passed away during its completion, Dedication can be taken simply as another release from the enigmatic producer. From 2007 through 2009, Zomby issued a deeply concentrated yet somewhat whimsical blast of singles and EPs on Ramp, Hyperdub, and Brainmath. He also released an album of breakbeat rave-not-rave on Werk Discs, the label operated by the equally hard to classify producer Actress.
Zomby's early records weren't always aggressive, but they were never really demure, either. When his first Hyperdub singles began to attract notice in 2008, he was part of a wave of post-dubstep producers who drew as much from synth-driven 1980s film scores, 8-bit era video game soundtracks, and electro as they did from Jamaica, hip-hop, or UK garage. True, his output wasn't as garish and noisy and abrasive as those made by some of his more intractable collaborators and remixers, and he used the EP format to experiment with tracks more ambient-leaning than club-ready.
For a guy who has supposedly written over 5,000 songs, Zomby has released a scant amount of material into the world. A few early singles that predate 2007’s name-maker, Where Were U In ‘92, and then its follow-up in 2008, One Foot Ahead of the Other, add up to only around 90 minutes of music. Much like his elusive public persona, Zomby’s minimal artistic output up until this point has only served to tease and tantalize.
Can we still pigeonhole Zomby's music as dubstep, or indeed could we ever? He might be one of the most recognisable names to be linked to the genre, but while its other leading light Burial lead the way in producing doomy, bass heavy portraits of 'broken Britain' and came to be seen as something of a trailblazer as a result, Zomby was busying himself with rave pastiches, abusing old Atari STs and winding up fans with his cranky online persona and frequent no-shows at gigs, marking him out as a more playful (albeit difficult) character. Dedication, Zomby's first album for the 4AD label (whose carefully crafted image could be seen as being a little at odds with Zomby's scrappiness) might very well be different though. As it was recently revealed that the title refers to his deceased father, you'd forgive him for not being in the mood for play here.
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.
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.