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Zomby - Dedication

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Artist: Zomby

Album: Dedication

Label: 4AD

Review date: Jul. 11, 2011

Judging the state of Zomby based on Dedication would be foolish. He recently claimed to have thousands of songs hanging out, and that might not be an exaggeration. Through YouTube and Dusk and Blackdown’s Rinse FM show, a slew of staggeringly diverse tracks have popped up in the two years since his last official release. Wonk, juke/jungle hybrids, absolutely killer straightforward eski, and hardcore throwbacks are all present. Rumors of a grime album for Thriller have been flying for a minute. A Gucci Mane remix appeared on Diplo’s Free Gucci mixtape last year. Point being, it doesn’t make sense to tie Zomby to his most recent release.

So what is Dedication? Restrained. This doesn’t seem like the product of a guy who dropped General L.O.K.’s “Elmo Riddim” at 5 Days Off a few months back. No obvious bass lines, no drops; just atmosphere and moody melodies rendered in Zomby’s trademark video-game synths.

The opening stretch, from the intro “Witch Hunt” to “Vortex,” might be Zomby’s best (released) material to date. “Natalia’s Song” is an obvious highlight that will certainly register with the folks who lost it over Burial’s “Archangel.” I’m generally wary of sampled “emotion,” but Zomby does it right, and I won’t let my biases get in the way of a great song.

The following tracks flow so well together that they completely justify Dedication as an album. “Alothea” and “Riding with Death” let synths dot out melancholy lines over stripped-down Wooo Riddim-esque beats. Between the two is “Black Orchid,” which contains brash electronic arpeggios over a near-invisible rhythm. It’s exactly what Oneohtrix Point Never should be doing instead of his pointless throwbacks. “Vortex” follows “Riding with Death” with the album’s closest approximation to his gangster Hyperdub work, only with diminished bass weight.

These tracks really are a logically sequenced whole, and the rest of the album mostly follows suit. Even the best of recent dance music albums, like Digital Mystikz’s Return II Space and Sandwell District’s Feed-Forward, felt like collections from which the best tracks could be thrown onto 12”s. In comparison, Dedication is a journey. By the end of the album, Zomby is able to get away with sedate piano/electronic interaction on “Haunted; it’s reminiscent of Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s collaborations. He follows it with “Basquiat,” a beatless, piano-led chamber piece.

Zomby’s achievement with Dedication is in plausibly connecting these austere sounds to underground bass music. The best DJs can do this, but few producers even try. It’s also fantastic that 4AD is bringing this sound to a wider audience. Some heads might complain, but I bet they’ll have more than enough wonk, juke/jungle hybrids, and eski coming their way soon.

By Brad LaBonte

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