Album Review: Zomby - With Love

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

UK electronic chameleon Zomby is one of those few artists from whom we've only seen improvement since his beginnings. Back in 2008, Zomby's full-length debut came in the form of Where Were You in '92?, an over the top, muddy 90s rave soundtrack that played excellent tribute to the scene of days past, but didn't really do much else. But Zomby didn't stay in the past for long. With a couple more years of production under his belt and a 4AD record deal, he brought the same UK garage and 2-step rave sound to a new, more relevant level on Dedication. Here, we saw Zomby join the ranks of other UK dub pioneers like Burial, mining out his country's rich electronic history to create something dark and seductive for the new generation. With Dedication, Zomby began to integrate dubstep and dark house, but also turn towards stripped down, emotional piano-driven tracks like "Basquiat". In every way, Dedication was a progression and an improvement. Zomby has apparently kept busy in the last two years, because this week, we get With Love, an hour and a half, 33 track collection of new material that sees him growing even more adventurous and more introspective. Once again, Zomby has outdone himself with his newest release. With Love is his best yet, and it's a unique and challenging offering to take on for any fan of the genre.

The electronic landscape doesn't spare the horses - it changes overnight. So as an artist that chooses this difficult and rewarding palette, you have to be pretty sensitive to the noise going on around you. Zomby does this wonderfully on With Love. More than ever (and better than ever before), he ventures into dark hip-hop territory. Tracks like "Horrid" compliment Zomby's atypical skittish melodies with heavy bass drops and machine gun hi hats. With tracks like these, Zomby not only finds himself standing next to Burial and Four Tet, but makes himself a contemporary of Purity Ring, Evian Christ, and even Hudson Mohawke and the like. On the other end of the spectrum, With Love also sees Zomby taking on classic jungle in bigger and better ways than before. For Metalheadz type lovers, there isn't much to complain about between the brutal drum n bass break of "Overdose" and the deadly sinister "777". But Zomby isn't really doing anything outside his realm of imagination. His signature sound of dance floor rhythm mashed with somber, ominous overtones still dominates here. The trap cut "Soliloquy" takes his hip-hop endeavor to a really reflective, darkly personal place, and cuts like "Ascension" see Zomby doing Dedication type material even better than before.

Much like on Dedication, a lot of the cuts here are sketches. With Love may be a double CD release with 33 tracks, but many don't even make it past the 3 minute mark. But if you think about the evolving nature of the electronic scene, this makes perfect sense. The rave days of 12 minute 2-step breaks are over, and nowadays, when you hear a set by Four Tet, Caribou, Jamie xx, or the like, you hear an intricate collection of dismembered pieces all strung together in an artistic way. This evolution is what keeps the creative nature of the DJ game alive today, even with technology constantly making it less and less of an art. So over the course of Zomby's 33 tracks here, we get a lot of whispers and a lot of whims, but With Love is a love poem to the evolution of the UK's electronic scene, meant to be read and understood by the club kids of today, no matter how short their attention span.

The distinction between CD 1 and 2 on With Love is pretty noticeable. On the first, Zomby throws it all at the wall with a vast and crowded collection of dance hall mantra. But after the brutal closing of "777" and a quick breath between CDs, the mood changes to a slow motion after party, where Zomby is free to explore the more melodic side we began to see towards the end of Dedication. "Black Rose" is one of the most captivating offerings we've heard from Zomby yet, bring a sobriety and a reverence almost 180 degrees the opposite of anything on the first disc. From there, we see a few of the nuances from the first disc return (the trap hip-hop nuance of "Digital Smoke" and the dubstep grind of "Pyrex Nights"), but all with a darker, more reflective tone. The counterpoint of the two is really something, and it's best heard and understood after a couple listens. But regardless, the collection we see in With Love is a beautiful and substantial one, and it is hardly a record to miss.

With Love is out now digitally through 4AD Records and will be released on 2xCD and 3xLP on July 2.

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