Looking back it’s unclear how Zomby became the enigma and scene archetype that he is today. Within five years he has gone from being one of many awkward signees on Kode9’s Hyperdub imprint to an artist whose releases (and speculation of one) garner entire news articles and occasionally shutdown the “Electronic Internet.” His early records on Hyperdub surfaced during an interesting time for music. The electronic music landscape was flipped on its head with terms like post-dubstep and bass music thrown around by journalists everywhere and artists such as James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Joy Orbison, and Pearson Sound (then called Ramadanman) crafted breathtaking releases nearly every month. Who remembers the damage “Work Them” caused on dancefloors? Their melting pot of sounds and attitudes paved the way for many of today’s dance music staples.
Right in between them was Zomby, honing in on off-kilter textures and presumably his entire persona. After 2008’s ode to UK hardcore, Where Were U In ’92? on Actress’ Werk Discs, Zomby compiled one of 2011’s most hyped full lengths, Dedication, for 4AD. The lead singles “Natalia’s Song” and “A Devil Lay Here” brought fuzzy and melodic sketches to a wider audience and hinted at a Zomby who was more focused and full of vitality. Naturally, when word leaked that he was working on his follow up record, the music community buzzed with excitement. And with 4AD label Manager Simon Halliday on record comparing it to Aphex Twin, expectations were high. Unfortunately, where Dedication triumphed in its on-point use of motifs and programming With Love struggles.
Going into this album it’s important to look at it as you would a great artist’s sketchbook—not everything will be perfect, finished, or to your liking, but the raw talent is undeniable. The question is this: Is that raw talent and potential enough at this state in Zomby’s career? One thing is certain the overall sound of With Love is hyper modern, relying heavily on booming 808 kick drums and the sloppy hiss of hi-hats; his time spent roaming the streets of New York has certainly taken its toll. Zomby’s opener was a strong start—”As Darkness Falls,” a short dub influenced roller that harkens back to his early records, particularly “Rumours And Revolutions.” However, by the fourth track things become a little shaky, starting with the frustrating track order (the way “Horrid” is positioned next to “If I Will” is cringe worthy.)
As much as I would like to say this album is highly curated and meticulously edited, it’s not and at times it shows. Of the 33 tracks a handful of them are just throwaway filler. On the second disc in particular, you wouldn’t be remiss for thinking sections of it were just large disjointed single tracks, that is how similar some of them sound. For instance “I Saw Golden Light” and “Quickening,” the similarities between the two are unmistakable. The hi-hat and snap pattern is almost identical and the only variations appear to be in the synthesizers and stabs. This occurs a number of times throughout the album and toward the end it becomes tiresome.
That’s not to say the album doesn’t have its moments. Some of the record’s strongest points lie in “Horrid” and “Memories.” “Horrid” takes a devilish spin on the world’s current obsession with overdriven 808 kicks while pairing them with some upfront, borderline cheesy trance leads; on paper the combination looks like a tragic misappropriation of the oft imitated Lex Luger style, but it mutates into something much more twisted. On the other side there is “Memories,” which will undoubtedly become a Zomby classic, filled with minor Rhodes notes it proves Zomby is still capable of tugging on our heartstrings. Two of the album’s most touching strokes of brilliance come in the form of “The Things You Do” and “How To Ascend.” “How To Ascend” is where Zomby finally brings together his knack for depressive melodies, upfront electronics, and hip-hop—something he hinted at for the majority of the LP, but couldn’t quite pull off. The melody is poignant; you can almost visualize his body moved back in forth in the studio as he played the notes.
As a whole, With Love bounces back in forth between tracks worthy of putting on repeat and those that need to meet their new best friend, your recycling bin. If you come into this album expecting a thought-out journey through the mind of Zomby, you may be disappointed. It is a well-known fact Zomby could care less about anyone’s opinion, but if he wants to elevate his name to the same level as those he is constantly compared to (and by the looks of his Twitter page he does) he needs to exercise more control and zero in on his goals. One of the albums greatest flaws is its lack of continuity; tracks come to screeching halts and the order seems arbitrary. The fact that the album progresses in alphabetically order says a lot as well. With Love is by no means a terrible album, but the bar that Dedication set was in no way reached. It’s worth giving a listen, but be prepared to edit it into a condensed and sensical format.