2008’s Where Were U In ’92? showed Zomby to be a producer with the ability to freshen up the past, mixing a keen sense for nostalgia with an ear for the sublime and the ridiculous; summed up perfectly with 'U Are My Fantasy', which mixed Baby D’s 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy' with Street Fighter 2 sound effects. It’s an album that won him much acclaim and with track titles like 'Fuck Mixing, Let’s Dance', 'Euphoria' and 'Pillz' it was perhaps one of the most blatant, in-your-face tributes to the early ‘90s rave scene. Following a quiet few years of mixtape releases and festival appearances Zomby finally returns with Dedication, an album that finds him in a much more secretive mood.
Dedication is incredibly atmospheric playing out like a soundtrack to a thriller; heavy on suspense and foreboding. Album opener 'Witch Hunt' sets an uneasy tone with cicada-like percussion and finger clicks playing underneath an eerie synth, the kind of track to set the scene in a darkened alley way. 'Natalia’s Song' is one of the few tracks to contain vocals but even here they are patchwork, cut and re-looped into a near unintelligible chant over a cyclical build up that expands on the sense of mystery. 'Florence' exudes urgency with its against-the-clock drums and a synth line that mirrors chiming bells.
Zomby extends his musical palate further with almost classical leanings, coming across all Samuel Barber / William Orbit / DJ Tiesto (delete as appropriate to your age group) with his own string composition in the shape of 'Adagio For Lucifer' although at just over a minute long it’s not likely to be whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Zomby doesn’t leave it there either, he manages to load the end of the album with two piano laden tracks. 'Resolve' is a more contemporary take mixing a full piano sound with a syncopated beat while 'Basquiat' employs a more ominous piano sound over a single cello, a fittingly dark tribute to the American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Those worried that Zomby has ditched his signature sounds needn’t worry, his 8-bit stylings are well represented on Dedication. 'Black Orchid', 'Mozaik' and 'Digital Rain' all sound like they’ve been lifted from the Sega Mega Drive with nostalgic chipset sounds those of us in our twenties and thirties grew up with. 'Things Fall Apart' continues the 8-bit theme with Panda Bear of Animal Collective providing guest vocals in his inimitable style.
It’s not all plain sailing on Dedication though, the main gripe I have relates to the choice of synths from time to time. 'Riding With Death' and 'Vortex' two tracks side by side on the album did absolutely nothing for me. The synths used sounded a bit generic, like the basic settings of Cubase or Ableton plug-ins. It’s a problem that doesn’t occur too often but when it does takes the sheen off the album.
At sixteen tracks Dedication might look a bit daunting, the kind of album you need to invest a month of your life in to appreciate properly, but most tracks come in around the two minute mark keeping the album fast paced, moving quickly from one idea to the next. The upside is the listener is never bored but the downside is that some tracks just don’t last long enough. As a whole package the album resides just a notch below a classic; it pushes boundaries and the majority of the tracks show Zomby to be on top of his game but it doesn’t quite reach tour de force territory. The major footnote to this is that with two cracking albums under his belt already, you wouldn’t bet against a genre defining masterpiece being that far away.
- Brian Kinsella