Since his first release in 2007, Zomby has shown a remarkable aptitude for shape-shifting and a will to shatter, bridge, and bend genre boundaries in order to let the music stand on its own rather than be reduced to a signifier for whatever style someone is looking to file it under. The wild, wobbling, dubby ganja haze of “The Lie” 12-inch, or “Liquid Dancehall,” both on Ramp Recordings, were released in the same year, 2008, as was the album-length homage to rave and hardcore, Where Were U in ’92, for Actress’ Werk imprint. And alongside these more club-oriented releases, he has also put out the mesmerizing “Digital Flora” for Brainmath, two mesmerizing sides of dark atmospheres traversed by circling chip-tune melodies, and split the difference with the “One Foot Ahead of the Other” EP, which tangled similarly gamey melodies over heavy beats. Everything he has put out feels heavy, explorative, and capable of altering the states of those who let themselves get drawn in.
Dedication is an album that, while linking up in any number of ways with works from Zomby’s past output, takes us in a new direction, one completely bound up with the capacity of an album to develop a sustained vision and impart it to a listener. It does so even though a large number of the pieces here are exceedingly short, ending abruptly or careening into the next track just as you have begun to be immersed in their flow. The overall feel of the record is dystopian, a darkness that never fully lifts; it hallucinates bleakly beautiful urban landscapes, develops a muted restraint from synthesizer sounds more often associated with the release of the rave. Standout “Natalia’s Song” floats a few fragments of a vocal snipped from some Russian schmaltz over a sliding bed of cycling, crushed synth notes, making for an intensely haunted and haunting track halfway along the road to nightmare.
There is definitely a unity to Dedication, a sense of being suspended in an ominous but deeply, fascinatingly emotional space. At the same time, many of the longer pieces, all of them more than capable of standing alone on their own merits, are quite different from one another. “A Devil Lay Here” may be my favorite thing on the record, its snaking, bassy synthline twisting and turning around a dazed melody that drives itself forward into the shadows. “Basquiat” and “Haunted” make use of piano, the latter to produce a purgatorial sense of hovering, nearing a point of no return. “Basquiat,” on the other hand, is blood-curdled doom, concise, melancholic piano keys drowned by a sustained drone. It is more reminiscent of the minimal, barren, dark ambience of someone like Deaf Center than the specters of dance music past.
Dedication is a record astonishing in its capacity to deliver you over to the delights left studded in a gloom-saturated, dying world. Though its palate is largely lifted, mutated, and twisted from past and present dance music, it is for the most part a somber, listening rapt gazing-into-space kind of affair. It is a sort of contemporary chamber music performing an alchemy of sorts, existing somewhere in the same spectrum as Burial, in as much as it mines a gray reality for discomfiting but entrancing emotions.
Burial – Untrue
Desolate – The Invisible Insurrection
Kode 9 And the Space Ape – Memories of the Future
Stream: Zomby – “Natalia’s Song”