Available on: 4AD LP
Like his music, the fascination with Zomby’s not as easy to explain as it initially seems. It’s full of contradictions. People are fascinated by what they don’t know, that’s for certain, but there’s a lot that people do know about Zomby – anyone who’s followed him on Twitter’s seen him get into slanging matches with kids barely half his age; anyone who’s searched his name on dubstepforum.com has probably read the stories of him threatening people over direct messages. There’s an infamy to his actions, but it’s not particularly threatening; if anything, it’s childish.
Personally, it makes me like him more. Contemporary music’s filled with more back-slapping than ever, and no matter how childishly it’s deployed (who remembers a Zomby dubplate titled ‘Fuck Ur Mngo’?), a little bile’s always welcome. There’s nothing genuinely threatening about Zomby, but he’s like a poltergeist that orbits UK music with a permanent smirk. Even on a recent, remarkably open interview with Self-Titled magazine, there were still those little moments (“I’ve got $3,000 wrapped in elastic bands in my pocket, a Rolex on, and all Supreme clothes; they still call security”) where you’ve just got to smile at the self-mythologizing.
Of course, Zomby’s now much bigger than the UK circles that eulogise and obsess over him: his new album, Dedication, is being released by 4AD, home of Ariel Pink, Gang Gang Dance and more. Zomby’s always been drawn to labels with disregard for conventional ideas of structure and production, such as past homes Hyperdub and Werk Discs, but 4AD could prove to suit him best. Dedication isn’t dance music. It’s head music; and by that, I don’t mean in the clichéd “headphone listening” sense – it’s music that tugs at the darkest corners of your brain, tapping into taboos, desires and childhood memories. Zomby’s long been a master of treble and arpeggios, and across Dedication, he uses them as effectively as any dubstep producer uses bass.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Dedication, though is its disregard for forward motion. Whether it’s linked to Zomby’s well-publicised love of architecture I don’t know, but tracks here constantly spiral upwards, their tails circling around buildings as they flutter into the sky. Dedication’s songs hang, hide, sway, curl and yes, float, but they rarely move straight. It’s a simple thing, but this in itself removes Zomby from 99% of dance music. They move with such beauty that it’s even more effective when Zomby cuts them with no outro or warning. He’s like an evil ringleader, sending his creations out to dance before snatching them back as they hit a groove.
Dedication doesn’t sound like previous Zomby releases. There are nods to One Foot Ahead of the Other and his Hyperdub EP, but where those records featured simple ideas executed with incredible efficiency, Dedication‘s tracks are more complex and layered. When you really listen to these tracks, you notice some masterful use of quiet elements – muffled drums below the surface that do more than you initially realise, or backing piano that brings a main riff to life. These tracks are, of course, full of contradictions: delicate spirals that end off-note and marble melodies punctuated by crude gunshots, but that’s what makes them so fascinating. This is the best record that Zomby’s released yet, and all for this poltergeist talk, the really scary thing is that I don’t think he’s anywhere near peaked.