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Zomby – Dedication review

Zomby’s decision to release his first material since 2009 on the 4AD label is one that is likely to have surprised many. It’s hard to imagine the glorious throwback jungle revivalism of Where Were You In ’92 on the same label that in the 80s gave us the Cocteau Twins and Bauhaus, but within the first few seconds of the album’s opener, “Witch Hunt”, the connection becomes clear, as its skittering organic tones showcase an altogether more gothic sound, even if it is one in which the relative serenity is interrupted by gunshot samples.

The second track, “Natalia’s Song”, with its shuffling two-step rhythm, builds on this understated introduction, initially suggesting a Burial style change of tone, but this track is pretty much a one off in the context of the album. The Russian vocal sample gives the track a curiously folky quality which offers something refreshingly different from the standard pitched up R&B vocal template. However, by the time “Black Orchid” arrives, complete with shimmering purple toned arpeggio, Zomby’s more familiar synthetic sound makes a comeback, and any worries that he may have abandoned his roots are allayed. During this middle section of the album the influence of jungle and hardcore remains, albeit in a more spectral form, and the tracks here feel most like those on his 2009 mini-album One Foot In Front of the Other, consisting primarily of minimal 8-bit textures. There’s nothing particularly unexpected here, but the addition of more reverb which pushes these elements more to the background gives the impression that Zomby’s production style has matured significantly. These tracks flirt further with different genres; “Riding With Death” for example features an infectious Kwaito inspired bassline which fits the dark tone of the album in superb fashion.

The final section of the album comes as the biggest surprise, doing away with dance music forms almost entirely. Consisting of a few tracks that experiment with more organic instrumentation which are almost baroque in their execution, they bring the album to an unexpectedly sombre yet exhilarating conclusion, especially “Haunted”, which creates a classical piece with the rhythmic flow of a jungle track, and “Basquiat” with its grand piano sample and sober funereal mood.

The one criticism that can be leveled at the album is that many of the tracks feel like little more than sketches. However, the flow from one to another is so smooth, with tracks often leading into one another, means that this is rarely an issue, and despite some wildly different textures and styles being employed, none of the shifts are ever jarring. What was brilliant about Zomby’s early productions was what he achieved with such a limited palette of sounds;  what makes Dedication so incredible is that Zomby has made such a huge stylistic jump by retaining essentially the same elements, and bringing such unusual new ones into the fold that complement his style perfectly. Whatever your preconceived notions of his sound, this album proves he should not be underestimated.

Scott Wilson