Release Date: Jul 2, 2013
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Dubstep, Left-Field Hip-Hop, Jungle/Drum'n'Bass
With Love isn't necessarily a more ambitious release than Zomby's first album for 4AD. No death-defying production techniques were publicized, and there was no statement of intent regarding the healing of planetary ills. The masked producer didn't do any of the things typically associated with musical ambition. He didn't even hire a string quartet (or discover a battered melodica).
Zomby is far from finished with the eerie, introverted soundscapes that defined his acclaimed second album, Dedication. His new record, a sprawling, utterly absorbing double album, takes a slow-motion look at a range of core electronic genres and spreads their bass and beats over unrecognisably low tempos, creating a signature sound of pulsing, melodic, urban unease. It’s the feeling of walking round deserted streets at night; savouring your solitude and the beauty of your moonlit surroundings, but being constantly aware of the threats lurking just out of sight.
Zomby burst onto the scene in 2008 with a series of inventive singles and a mixtape/album that sampled Gucci Mane and Aaliyah into earworm rave. He seemed at the time capable of expanding the borders of bass music, a maverick in a scene where progress is still regarded as hugely important. Things haven't quite turned out that way. As peers like Burial, Rustie, and Pearson Sound have added their styles to an impressive history of U.K.
As much as any solecism-laden string of tweets might lend the appearance of affability, the London-bred, New York-based producer behind the Zomby moniker and mask managed to nail down concision as the defining characteristic of his career early on. Much like another Londoner’s predilection for concealment, Zomby quickly hid behind a Guy Fawkes mask and built a reputation for unreliability after failing to appear at a couple of crucial early gigs. On his 2008 debut, Where Were U in ’92, a hazy look back at the early days of his beloved jungle, Zomby’s anonymity was a schtick.
Zomby has evidently been a very busy man since 2011’s Dedication - With Love’s whopping 33 tracks spread over two discs joining a relatively rare number of double albums in the electronica genre, which is usually more favorable towards the EP as a format. Despite the length, this is signature Zomby to the core, his unmistakable gated synths and arpeggiated lines prominent throughout. Whereas Dedication was mournful and languid, mirroring the passing of Zomby’s father who from interviews was obviously a big influence on his life, With Love is an amalgamation of the various forms he’s approached previously - such as the hyperactive jungle rhythms present on his album debut, Where Were U in '92?, and the more wonky electronica from his early years on Hyperdub, which can be clearly heard on as Darkness Falls.
Zomby has a cult following, and it's not just because of his notorious internet persona. At surface level, the appeal is obvious: his beats pair crystal-clear melodies with hard-hitting percussion, and his best tunes don't have more than three or four parts to them. But there's something bewitching about the way he puts sounds together, and that's what captures the hearts of so many.
Enthusiastic enigma and Twitter provocateur Zomby has never had to rely on anything more than his considerable production chops to get the attention of the media and record-buying public. But all narcissistic outbursts and snipes at his peers aside, has he managed to justify his hype on new 4AD release With Love? Well, yes, actually. His pristine interpretations of the detritus of the UK rave scene sound darker and deeper than ever.
A ghost from a time when dubstep was a matter of subtlety and inflection more than a screaming endorsement of bombast and bass, Zomby makes mysterious, mercurial electronic music that suits dancing in a range of moods, bad and sad very much included. On his third LP, the London producer splits his personality between two volumes bound together. The first skitters through futuristic fever dreams and memories of rave days long since passed; the second, more sparse and restrained, plays with ambient atmospheres and negative space (see titles like “Vast Emptiness” and “Entropy Sketch”).
Zomby is one of those digital age artists who, à la Burial, opts to transmit sounds to the world out from under a veil of anonymity. This artist’s cover-up of choice is a grinning Guy Fawkes mask, tastefully color-coordinated to go with his standard uniform of Givenchy, Adidas tracksuits, and Nike trainers. In most cases, I wouldn’t fixate so heavily on an artist’s physical appearance or on the brands they choose to sport, but in the case of British-born, New York-dwelling electronic producer Zomby, I think it’s not only relevant, but essential to the metaphysical gesture of his art.
Divisive, enigmatic, mask-wearing Zomby will probably be chuffed to read a review of his third album ‘With Love’ that opens with such mysterious adjectives – ones that play right into the myth of elusiveness that electronic music’s most self-important producer wants to foster. But you know what? He might be all of those things, but he’s also a massive attention-seeker running a sideline career in being the biggest dickhead on Twitter, which is a far less poetic decoration. And though it shouldn’t matter, his neurotically self-aggrandising and unself-aware timeline reveals more about the record’s motivation than you’d expect.
As befits an artist signed to the 4AD label, Zomby maintains a mysterious and anonymous public profile. The British electronic music producer reaches his fans and conducts rare interviews via social media, and has kept his given name a mystery. He has received quite a bit of acclaim, though, especially for his second album, 2011’s Dedication. For his first album, 2008’s Where Were You In ‘92, Zomby used early-‘90s equipment in order to obtain an authentic sound that helped him pay homage to techno music’s early, groundbreaking years.
In a current New York Times profile on modern artist James Turrell, his contemporary Chuck Close describes Turrell as, “an orchestrator of experience, not a creator of cheap effects. And every artist knows how cheap an effect is, and how revolutionary an experience. ” The same can be said of the enigmatic electronic musician Zomby, who has brazenly moved beyond the clever but tawdry sonic tricks that permeated his early work in favour of something richer and far more cerebral with his current offerings, as he continues to boldly push the electronic scene forward while also joyously celebrating its fitful past.
A heap of 33 dissimilar tracks clocking in at around two minutes each could risk coming off as fractured or unfinished. And in a way, London producer Zomby’s third album does feel like a spill of partial realizations. But the fractured blur of “With Love” — which over two discs rushes between the dancefloors and darker hallways of three decades — feels more like a reconstitution of his own musical memory.
There are few more divisive musical figures than enigmatic electronic producer Zomby. His career so far has been defined by an overarching conviction to make music on his own terms. Both full-length releases so far, 2008’s homage to early 1990s rave and its attendant culture (‘Where Where You In ‘92?’), and 2011’s reflective and moving follow up (‘Dedication’), are records that can be equally as maddening as they are astonishing.
Something that’s worth making clear from the start – far too many reviews of Zomby’s third album, With Love, have focused on a) his Twitter account, and b) the fact that his tracks aren’t usually fleshed out with intros or outros. I’m not bothered by either. If you’re listening to Zomby at this point, then you should know what you’re getting yourself in for: his albums play out more like exhibition spaces of sketches and paintings than they do sequenced records, and With Love – 33 Zomby compositions, sequenced alphabetically (though from a recent piece on Dazed, it appears that the titles came after the music) with only four clocking in at longer than three minutes – that’s more obvious than ever.
What with all the controversy surrounding shadowy UK dance producer Zomby - accusations of plaigarism, Twitter tirades, the shunning of interviews and regular non-appearances for gigs - you could almost forget he was known for making music. Still, he's done plenty of fascinating stuff in his time: 2008 debut album Where Were U In 92 was an homage to late '80s/early '90s hardcore rave, mixing up Aaliyah, Gucci Mane and Blade Runner soundbites with breakbeats that rumbled along at hyper-speed around stabbing synths. Since then he's released a varied range of other material - 12"s and EPs for Hyperdub and Ramp exploring various wonkified strains of club music, and 2011's second album and 4AD debut Dedication.