Monday, 8 July 2013

Zomby - With Love


By the time anybody had pulled themselves away from the shock of self-applied acclaim, the best/worst aspect that Burial brought to music by the time his sophomore became an instant classic among electronic fans, was that it gave the modest outsider and musically-shy of individuals the confidence and ambition to create similar - if not direct carbon copy - vibes to that great suburban underground sound. But the vast UK industrialized landscape of living has always been one of shock-and-awe in terms of the music that's been generated. Before the likes of future garage, witch-house, or even dubstep had its foot in the door and its name reappearing in search engines across the globe, the original 2-step sound - and further back, breakbeat and jungle - were more the electronic sound of a populous both caught amidst and attracted towards the grittier, realism of British culture. It's probably why Zomby has made quite a name for himself...and that's excluding the type of importance for which the man has professed he holds like some shining top-storey neon signing. But to disregard his online personality (twitter and non-twitter alike) for a second, you'll see that the man's confidence - to think of a more euphemistic-turn-PR description - lies in his profound know-how to the very scene(s) UK electronica has grown up both through and from, over the past two decades. While debut Where Were U In '92 wasn't exactly the lengthiest or, to that effect, the most lavish of urban electronic albums, follow-up Dedication allowed Zomby's personal stance that focus lies on the scene, the moment, the dance-floor - more-so than the necessary abstraction and illicit metaphors of such nightly scenery - to be professed.

So to find With Love not only following in that same style of short-sweet-nimble tracks...but showcasing it over an eighty minute, two disc, thirty-three track record does allude possibly/dangerously to the notion that this will be an incredible hit or a disastrous miss as far as direction and emphasis is concerned. Yes, both sides/discs are arranged alphabetically, but I don't feel that in any way strengthens or deters as to the overall impact Zomby's progress and layout has here. Opening track As Darkness Falls does however feel like a sweeping prologue; a faithful fade-in to what feels an ever-looming collossus of moody beats, swirling synths and bass mumblings that Zomby seems to offer quite nicely for the first piece. But it's important to note still - especially as Ascension glides so carelessly into our ears straight-after - of the presence of immediacy and lack-of-warning as far as the producer's emphasis on placement and musical atmosphere is concerned. Again, Horrid shows no lenience or remorse for entering so abrasively, and it's rather morbid, rather hypnotic tendency of sound and eery synth layering further supports the belief that these sounds, while snap-shot in style, still mean to offer a darkly conjure of emotion and atmosphere. Credit is due certainly in Zomby's panning of percussion to and fro; synths staying in that lofty weightless space while the more rhythmic and physical of instrumentation tends to launch itself, only to disappear again at every end-bar opportunity.

There is a kind of Polaroid quality to the way these tracks are presented, and that's not meant as a way to degrade the clarity and textural relationship Zomby presents around his production. If I Will's surprisingly off-shoot glockenspiel presence gives the piece a fairly organic and, dare I say it, youthful flair. Whereas the disdain piano and bass on Isis, and the shuffled array of percussion and keys on Memories, come off more mature and wiser to its darker abode. But despite this flickering and self-opposing stance Zomby takes when shifting from one sample of scenery to the next, his greatest ability - as noted - is when he takes from the past and not only matches its strength, but adds to its momentum in order to galvanize the sounds into this artificial darkness he emphasizes in his music. The rabid breakbeat lead of Overdose therefore, is one of the best moments of past remembrance Zomby surfaces from out his palette, but at the same time - because of the accompanying drops of bass beats and industrial-like percussion swirling about the mix - it remains excellently adjusted and crucially aware of its current surroundings. It's this refusal to simply fall into the nostalgic trap or memory-induced naivety, that I really enjoy seeing/listening to. But from this, you'd expect for him to lead his listener off into much grander escapism of sound, while still maintaining that charismatic swirl of darkly beats and synths that gives his take on contemporary electronics that deserved attention.

But as we come to quickly realize, one of the reasons perhaps as to why the majority of the tracks listed lie just shy of the two minute mark, is because (unfortunately) Zomby never really seems to either take a risk with his established sound...or even knows how to progress his offering from off first base. The following three or four less-than-two-minute offerings more-so come off as unfinished ideas...or worse...ideas for which Zomby has simply lost interest in, and moved away from. From the likes of Pray For Me's interesting parameter of arpeggio synths against high-level percussion, to The Things You Do's grandees swell of on-the-edge vocals and tense synth hooks, hell even This One's groove-inducing lead of bass synths and drums. Each one of these pieces offer so much potential, but deliver little on Zomby's argument that they actually mean what they say. It's because they're so minute and so directly put affront the listener - only to be dragged away and replaced by the next in line - that creates a worrying disconnect from the atmospheric textures and vibes Zomby is so adamant to project. Even when VI-XI finally walks on-stage - the first three-plus minute track we've been given for some time - the fact we're treated to a seemingly up-tempo variation on something we've already experienced (the vocals are exactly the same as those from a previous track, albeit slightly quicker and pitched up a level),  it begins to generate problems over not just the ideas offered, but too the producer's own integrity as a musician seeking some kind of monumental spectrum of sound, in all its genre-hopping, rhythmic tenacity. Even if the first disc ends with quite a laud and attention-grabbing breakbeat offering, I can't shrug away the ever-growing doubt and sense of concern I seem to be filled with in regards to how Zomby is meaning to appeal us the listener through to the second half of this record.


Admittedly, Black Rose continues to spell out Zomby's willing us into his crowded gatherings, albeit those tinted in faintly blackening textures. So in terms of atmosphere and tension, I can see the appeal in his deciding on letting the brief environmental passages continue through. But as we get to the clashing dynamic of Digital Smoke, you again get a repeating sense of Déjà vu in that we've already covered these grounds; seen many a variety of these particular shuddering, slightly withdrawn beats and been fairly adamant Zomby's layering is about space and emphasizing it as such. But what's more riddling and quite frown-imposing is the overuse of fade-out/fade-in that crops up in vast amounts over the second disc. Worryingly, the way Entropy Sketch fades in and offers very little difference to the previous tracks, it's equally a 'what's the point' moment as it is a 'why do this' raising-of-arms. And I hate to say it, but this overuse is the least of our problems. It's not objectively wrong to use the same sounds across a wider sprawl of tracks (some albums actually do the whole repeated use quite well). But to hear Zomby using the exact same beat, albeit slightly altered in its layering and production value on tracks such as How To Ascend, I Saw Golden Light & Quickening only goes to show how drained and devoid of character a lot of Zomby's tracks stand out as being. I can see where or perhaps why he might be using this approach - the beat certainly has a kind of multilingual quality in how it matches up with the other layers and sounds - but given said songs don't really push or even inject a sense of adventure or liveliness into the record, the feeling is evermore that this is all just pointless stretching-out and, worse, filler.

Perhaps the best moments and most opportunistic of Zomby's sound in the latter half of this album, come in the form of Reflection In Black Glass' sleeker choice of synth tone and the way it invigorates the environment (if still in that partially hindered perspective) rather than outright cloud it in shadow. And while Solioquy does see the return of that drumbeat, the melodic accompaniments and synth patterns conjure a greater, more dreamy scope of visuals which, like the track previous, open up Zomby's palette up to vaster shades and colourful ranges of sound - even if the expansion still lies somewhere on the white-grey-black spectrum. But I feel this album works - and succeeds in parts - when it treats that grey-scale region with a sense of dignity. Sunshine In November, while brief, has the potential to being one of the better melodic and perhaps verse-chorus-verse pieces of Zomby's catalog. And while the offer is a solitary minute in scale, it's interesting to hear these scurrying loops of keys and piano jostling about - the tasteful piano lead in the end still lying untouched or unscathed by the use of reverb and echo that's preceeded it. Final track With Love carries with it almost an ironic unanswerable cliffhanger as to where it's going or what it's leading up to - minute bass offerings and swirling synth sounds suggest something grander and more texturally hostile on the horizon, but never really follows up on that promise...or even offers something equally as delectable or ethereal.
 

The irony then, only grows to double-fold when you take into consideration that this is the same message that perfectly sums up not just the title track, but the album for which it shares the same name. The problem with Zomby's decision-making and creative ingenuity not just plague With Love, but tend to flow through continually with no real suggestion or surmise that they're coming to a halt anytime soon. While the UK-based producer offers some distinct, instantly-recognizable dark tinges and eery levels of atmosphere and tension in his sound, the fact that nothing really goes deeper than a soluble grey tends to suggest a lack of variety, but also - more precariously - a sense of safety. And it's a safety not just in sound, but in numbers too that increases the scathe of uncomfortable drag and weight the album's second half holds on us. Where some tracks feel as if they could have been combined or gelled better to form single-but-greater pieces of electronics, others tend to sound more like Mark II/III/IV variants of a track we've already heard some five minutes ago. I commend Zomby for expressing a clear love for not just the past successions of electronic music, but too showing a deep, knowledgeable ear for the recent benefits and surges that continue to pour more ideas into contemporary, underground music. And while I'm not at all against the idea of a double-album showcase (some actually benefiting from that decision) or even those that spill out over the 60-minute mark - or twice that in some parts - Zomby in his own large portions, fails to convince his listener both tonally and sonically, that what he's offering strongly backs his claim that a longer experience - regardless of quality and content - universally means a better one.
~Jordan

5.7

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