Review Summary: Fuck Mixing, Let's Dance.
Zomby's Where Were U in '92?
is one of those releases where the album and the story behind it are somewhat of a package deal. Zomby began his career as a relatively basic but extremely capable Dubstep artist, having multiple Hyperdub releases, a growing fanbase and quite a bit of underground acclaim. His releases were gradually progressing into a more experimental sound, but it wasn't until he released this debut album that his versatility was fully displayed. Where Were U in '92?
is a throwback album that emulates popular rave music from, you guessed it, 1992. The album wasn't just stylistically designed to fit the early '90s aesthetic; Zomby created the entire album using old-school production equipment from that era. It gives the album a very genuine old-school vibe, and gives new-school elements such as rolling Dubstep basslines a very fresh-sounding backdrop.
Album opener “*** Mixing, Let's Dance” tells you up front what the album's going to be about, both in sound and in name. Breakbeat rhythms shuffle along under frantic synths and glitchy chopped up vocals, all over the top of a light bouncing bassline. Descending vocals reminiscent of adult “Charlie Brown” characters battle the repeating cut up female vocals to create much groovier sections throughout that add some relief to the controlled chaos of the rest of the track. Follow-up track “Euphoria” shares a similar framework with the opener, but adds a couple elements that play a crucial role in the rest of the album- most notably the overpowering rolling bassline and abundant use of airhorns. The added deep basslines give some insight into Zomby's past music career and play a huge role in giving this album a “new old-school” sound. Just when you're starting to get used to the union of Dubstep basslines with Breakbeat rhythms, most of the percussion drops out to leave only a sparse half-step rhythm that brings the listener back to this millennium for a moment, only for the track to return full force immediately after. It's these ideas that keep an old sound fresh and give the album a “best of both worlds” element.
With the seemingly unlimited styles and tricks that Zomby seems to be capable of pulling off, there's really no general description that can be applied to the album. It spans an extremely wide range of sounds, with track “Daft Punk Rave” using chopped, down-tuned vocals from Daft Punk track “Technologic” over a light rhythm with fuzzy synths to give the track a much needed dark and relaxed feel. In the latter half, we see some small foreshadowing for what will in the future be Zomby's dark, glitchy style, but it's only ever hinted at. On “Need Ur Lovin'” we hear melodic reverb-laden vocals over the top of a simple four-on-the-floor house beat, but the biggest surprise of all is what follows.
“Pillz” is a remix of a Gucci Mane track of the same name from 2006. On the original track, Gucci follows the modern mainstream hip-hop style of touting drugs, women, his flow, and any other cliches he can fit into the track length, with nothing to make it stand out besides the huge hook in the chorus. It should be a recipe for disaster, but Zomby is on such a hot streak that he could probably sample anything he wanted and turn it into a classic track, which is exactly what he does here. The track is sped up to fit the upbeat style that's backed by a teasing 8-bit synth and syncopated rhythm. The subject matter seems to make a different point with the new sounds applied. What was once an arrogant brag track about “rolling” is now an anthem that comments on the rave culture. Gucci's drawling delivery fits well over the non-stop percussion, and the faster chorus turns what was once a hook into a giant harpoon complete with bait. It's likely to be the most polarizing track on the album, but it's also one of the most impressive. If that somehow doesn't stay stuck in your head, just wait for the title track's infectious pitch-shifted female vocals, or the album closer which is a re-done version of the 1992 rave anthem, “Let Me Be Your Fantasy” by Baby D that utilizes Street Fighter II samples wherever possible.
Where Were U in '92
stands on its own within the electronic world. As much as it draws from various genres and eras, it's impossible to pin down to anything familiar. There's no comparison that can give the listener a sense of what to expect coming into it. The only real way to relate it to fellow electronic artists is to note that it's about as successful as experimentation can get, and Zomby's creative brilliance puts this up with the other standout electronic “must-haves”. Whether the early rave scene is something that will evoke nostalgia, or if it's a completely foreign concept to you, it won't matter where you were in '92, as long as you can catch up with this now.