Release Date: Sep 2, 2016
Record label: Hyperdub
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
The masked producer returns after three years of silence with a humorous and imaginative album of solo works and collaborations featuring Burial, Darkstar, Banshee and Rezzett. Merging tacky space voyage synths and ominous drones with jungle beats and garage melodies, Ultra is an unapologetic pastiche of 90s rave culture and retro video games. While many tracks include lurching rhythms (Burst) or jarring dissonance (Freeze) – and may take several listens to love – there are a few more straightforward arrangements with instant appeal, such as the sugary and light-hearted Glass.
Following releases for various parts of the Ninja Tune empire and stints at 4AD and XL, mysterious producer Zomby has returned to the label that released some of his earliest singles for a fourth album. Dark, early 90s rave has always circled Zomby’s material. This suits the “weightless” strand of less beat-heavy grime he seems to be conjuring with on some of Ultra, recalling the work of Lee Gamble in focussing on the eerie oases between hardcore’s rhythmic onslaughts.
The lead single to Zomby’s first album in more than three years was not terribly auspicious. Sure, in the run-up to its release, the prospect sounded almost too good to be true: Zomby and Burial together at last—bass music’s two most notoriously hermetic producers emerging from their studio lairs bearing, one could only assume, fistfuls of charcoal and lightning. But their collaboration “Sweetz” sounded half-assed: desultory in spirit, scattered in form, and overlaid with an insistent vocal loop insisting, “Get me fucked up/Get me fucked up/Get me fucked up,” over and over, like the inner monologue of a user whose serotonin receptors have long since scabbed over.
Like many of his Hyperdub peers, one of the keys to Zomby’s enduring appeal is the sheer consistency and cohesion of his output. His impressive knack for marrying expressive harmonic textures with bold, muscular beats is almost always presented to the listener through a permeating haze of reverb and modulation, a security blanket placed upon his tracks to ensure his audience’s willingness to see through his more eccentric aural diversions. On Ultra, the producer’s latest full-length, that timbral constant continues to veil each track, yet it is not matched by the kind of qualitative consistency to which many of his fans will have become accustomed.
"I like to leave the song as bare as possible," said Zomby in a 2013 interview. "It's like, if you build a watch and lift the face off the back, you can see the workings. I try and leave a song like that, rather than putting the face back on and gluing diamonds on…" Minimalism can be a powerful tool, but in Zomby's recent music it has become a handicap.
Following a two-album stint with 4AD and some intermediate short-form releases, such as a pair of EPs for XL, Zomby returned to Hyperdub, the outlet for some of his earliest work. Ultra is cheekily front-loaded with a trio of weightless and skeletal tracks that offer little more than new combinations of the producer's familiar hollow plinks and brittle blips, dotted with routine gunplay FX and vocal mutations. Those who stick it out are treated to a few of the producer's most straightforward and substantive tracks.
The sound of a gun being cocked and fired doesn’t often open an album these days, but this is Zomby we’re talking about. Returning after 8 years to Hyperdub – the label that arguably saw his breakthrough - it’s a sign of intent and a good measure of what’s to come. ‘Ultra’ is over the top, it’s gaudy, it’s aggressive and frankly, it doesn’t give a flying fuck what anybody thinks.
Zomby’s 2008 debut, Where Were U in ’92, was one of the more interesting releases of the last decade. With its ghostly, fragmented echoes of the early rave scene, it toyed with nostalgia and memory to create a unique dancefloor palette from sounds you’d half heard before. Since then, the mysterious producer has moved towards creating electronic moodscapes of the kind captured on this fourth album.
UK producer Zomby comes from an era long before a movie about EDM on Netflix or a musical about the genre sponsored by Verizon was the norm. First making waves in 2007, the eclectic producer danced between dubstep, UK garage, jungle, and eskibeat, all while finding his own footing within the electronic dance music scene and becoming a staple among enthusiasts of the genre. Throughout his almost decade-long career, Zomby has called several labels home, with his latest full-length release, Ultra, returning to the beloved Hyperdub, with whom he also put out a self-titled EP in 2008, his first major release.
UK producer Zomby's past releases have consistently harkened back to harder styles like jungle and early rave, and while they're still somewhat evident on surprisingly sombre new LP, Ultra, they're stretched and cooled off into an icier versions of themselves. "Fly 2" features a nod back to the anthemic vocals of early '90s dance music and "S. D.
One of the symptoms of depression is something known as anhedonia. It is essentially the absence of joy in activities that would normally bring happiness. This is something I associate with one of the worst parts of the UK; an all-encompassing greyness where experiences are compressed into a single band of emotion. Our country's seeming lack of joie de vivre might come from our famously dull weather or from a culture that seems suspicious of ideas like community or festivity to the point of actually banning Christmas or having a Prime Minister state that 'there's no such thing as society'.
Zomby 'Ultra' (Hyperdub)Masked man Zomby has been one of the most frustrating figures in 21st century electronic music. After a blast of incredible early EPs that stirred instrumental grime, old-school rave, acid house and Aphex Twin melodics into a unique, heady sound, he lost focus. His music emerged in fragments, the best stuff often only appearing as 30 second YouTube leaks.
Pop music has long been a tug of war between spontaneity and toil: for every hit single penned on the way to the studio or dreamed up on the toilet, there are the songs where the artist has sweated blood over the finer lyrical points or spent a year recording the bass lines. Perma-masked, not quite anonymous, British producer Zomby has thus far sat firmly on the side of spontaneity: he once claimed that his concentration span lasted 25 minutes and if a song wasn’t done in that time, he would “clear the screen and start again”. And that spontaneity came across brilliantly in his music.