Zomby Dedication(4AD) Buy it from Insound
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.
Not that that's anything to be concerned about, as the pre-album releases of Things Fall Apart and Natalia's Song confirmed. We may all be suffering from Animal Collective fatigue, but the former serves as an excellent reminder of the charm of a good quality Panda Bear vocal, with the hazy warmth and beguiling simplicity of his best work present and correct, and nicely offset with Zomby's clattering beats and pleasantly dated sounding arpeggios. The latter, based around a cut-up of a song by Russian Fame Academy winner Irina Dubcova, may have been doing the rounds for almost a year now, but remains a stunning piece of work, impeccably paced, impossibly catchy and full of slavic misery (admittedly as a translation of the lyrics doesn't seem to be available, Dubcova may well be singing about her love of ponies or something else equally mundane).
Some of Dedication's other highlights include the surprisingly epic chiptune of Black Orchid, Riding With Death, which may at first glance seem to be a fairly unexceptional bit of dubstep, but reveals a wry sense of humour on closer listens (consider the genre conventions adhered to so closely that they start to feel self-parodic, the ridiculous vocal sample, or the bassline that's suspiciously close to the Tetris theme) and Adagio for Lucifer, which might not sound like it was birthed in hellfire (unless you consider Justin Timberlake's My Love to be the work of the devil) but is still a compelling, if too short, bit of rave-influenced dread. And if that wasn't diverse enough, Basquiat even follows Aphex Twin's lead by slipping in a (rather good) classically influenced piano piece.
But there's a fatal flaw at the heart of Dedication; it's far too short. Albums that come in at sixteen tracks should ordinarily seem bloated, yet this feels incredibly lightweight as thanks to Zomby's restless creativity/short attention span he gets bored of tracks very quickly. Hardly any are allowed to reach the three-minute mark (several barely even last a minute) and so as a result few ideas are given the opportunity to reach their full potential. For example, the paranoid spy thriller vibe of Florence sounds like it should be building up to something dramatic and chaotic, but instead it merely repeats itself a few times and then fades out politely. And to make matters worse, one of the few tracks that's given a decent length is the album's sole clunker – the lumbering, unexceptional Digital Rain.
It could be argued that the ADHD style is perfect for today's listener – it's music for the over-stimulated generation, if you will – and that it could even be said to be inspiring, encouraging listeners to loop and remix it to their heart's content, but when listened to as an album it just seems lazy, arrogant and above all irritating. Combine the short track lengths with a total lack of finesse in the album's sequencing and the effect's rather like being forced to listen to a bored toddler flick between radio stations for thirty-six minutes.
Zomby may have the potential to be the most brilliant, versatile British electronic musician since Richard D.James, but his distant, maverick act does him few favours here – what he needed was somebody to sit him down and tell him to focus on one idea at a time. As it is, Dedication seems like a bit of a missed opportunity; as collection of ideas it may be incredible, but as an album it's just insubstantial.14 July, 2011 - 11:21 — Mark Davison