Review Summary: Zomby indulges himself.
Upon the mere announcement of With Love
, I had huge expectations for a strong album of the year contender. I have yet to hear a Zomby track that I have been really dissatisfied with, and after thoroughly rinsing the entirety of Zomby’s released discography I’ve spent plenty of time hunting down his unreleased work - radio mixcuts, demos he put online himself, and tracks that seemingly surfaced out of thin air - and there’s far more to be found of his unreleased material than all of his released tracks combined. It’s not an impressive statistic on its own, but the quality of the tracks he considers to be throwaways is downright astounding. Part of what makes him such a compelling producer to keep up with is his choice to do something completely different almost every time he puts out material. Focusing on his two full-lengths alone, Where Were U In ‘92
was a bombastic throwback to early 90s rave music and Dedication
was a restrained, somber mood piece dedicated to the memory of his father. Sonically they are about as opposite as electronic music can get, but both albums had very clearly defined intentions that kept Zomby’s sprawling creative mind on a leash. It was a method that worked to turn those albums into well-executed and focused displays of Zomby’s talent, but on With Love
we finally get to hear his work completely unrestrained in the form of a 33-track double-album.
For the first time on a major release, Zomby makes no effort to surprise us with his approach. The majority of the aesthetics found on With Love
are built from the same haunting melodies and sinister 8-bit synth-lines that were draped over the reflective framework of 2011’s Dedication
, but there’s an extra level of depth and immersiveness to be found in the mixing and mastering that went into the album that allows the familiar moodiness to sound fuller, more expansive, and just plain impressive on a technical level alone. The reverb-laden percussion is thunderous, the dark synth-lines swell and drift seemingly forever into the aural spaciousness, only completely disappearing when they have been forgotten or a new one overtakes them. Tracks like “If I Will” and “Memories” pit the discordant pace of the twinkling synth lines against the underlying 2-step-influenced percussion in the captivating way he has dazzled us with in the past on tracks like “Equinox”. But this isn’t just Dedication Part 2
or a continuation of The Nothing EP
, though the latter is likely the best comparison to be made against his previous work. Among the familiar there are tracks rooted in the jungle/breakbeat stylings of his rave throwbacks, tracks that advance the ideas found on Dedication
, and quite a few surprises that make up some of his most memorable work yet.
Without the somber tone and purpose behind Dedication
, the moodiness of that album, when found here, has been beefed up with much of the energy and thunderous low-end that embodied the rave madness from Where Were U In ‘92
. The album never quite reaches that level of intensity with the exception of “Overdose” which is a breakcore track whose frenetic percussion is rivalled only by the blistering pace of “Hench” from ‘92
. With Love
instead typically opts to display its dancefloor appeal through the power of garage’s infectious 2-step shuffle, dubstep’s half-time kick-snare pattern, and hip-hop’s slow, thumping style; all of which here have been manipulated into the earthquake-rumblings of monstrous 808 bass kicks, echoing snares, and Zomby’s love of skittering hi-hats.
There isn’t much of an overall theme to be found on With Love
, especially in the first half. Indeed, the pacing and scatter-brained nature of the track ordering is most reminiscent of listens through the hodge-podge of unreleased material of his in its unplanned order, rather than one of his more focused albums. The rapid beginnings and endings of tracks is somewhat of a trademark of Zomby’s, but without the feeling of unity among the tracks they end up feeling like various one-off ideas jumbled together. In many ways, the randomness is what keeps the album listenable in its lengthy duration. Any level of monotony in a double-album can be crippling to its enjoyment, but the lack of a universal purpose or feeling behind the tracks does make the album feel a bit too much like a compilation of tracks rather than a proper album, and the lack of a flowing nature contributes to a slight difficulty in staying put for a full listen which his previous work almost demanded. What ropes you in for the full ride is the sheer power and captivating nature of some of the tracks here. Zomby’s worship of old-school rave has given him an ability to forge some of the most infectious work since that era. It comes in the form of the wriggling bassline on “Isis” that forces its way into your head and won’t leave for days, the staggering sway of “The Things You Do”’s simplistic hip-hop rhythms and melodies, the twisted retro sampling of “VI-XI”, the welcome return to Zomby’s roots in plain old dubstep on “Pyrex Night”, and in the album’s most shining moments we are rewarded with something much deeper and more important.
The entire album is a prime example of a masterful melding of the introspective mood found in the best deep electronic music and the infectious nature of dance music, as Zomby has been for most of his career. But perhaps the most important moment on the album is when the 8-bit bleeps and pounding percussive elements are all stripped down for the warmest, most uplifting track of Zomby’s career, “Glass Ocean”. It’s drenched in melancholy, but there’s a triumphant feeling of hopefulness that acts as a jarring shift in mood from the overpowering dark nature of With Love
to remind us that although there has been a dark focus in Zomby’s music since the events and period surrounding Dedication
, the music itself is a gift forged out of love and passion. Dedicated to himself, dedicated to us, all of it With Love