Zomby - Dedication (4AD)
Who is Zomby? I ask this question not simply because of his commitment to concealing his identity (his real name has never been given out and he masks his face in publicity shots). I also ask it because of the often confounding nature of the music he makes under a consistent alias. Dedication is his second full-length album, but YouTube and other internet platforms are cluttered with other tracks, some half-formed, some fully-flegded, that have never been officially released. By this stage, it's quite clear that he cannot simply be categorised as a 'post-dubstep' artist, or any such fatuous classification critics might use when they are unable to find adequate language to describe music. If Where Were You In 92? offered a sincere paen to the hardcore and rave eras, Dedication is attempting something very different.
Commentary on this album seems to have been beleaguered by a lack of understanding. It has been dismissed in some quarters as being overly fragmented or incomplete. For sure, the tracks are often brief and many end abruptly and unexpectedly. Yet if Dedication really is a response to grief - the loss of a love one - then the artistic approach adopted here seems to be wholly justified. One's emotions at such a time are often not easily defined or reduced to something coherent and simple. Dedication is a complex beast, flitting rapidly between a variety of styles, colours, textures, atmospheres and emotions. Such techniques are common in acoustic improvised music (although admittedly usually over much more sustained forms), but not so often explored within electronica, with its inevitably more limited dynamic range.
With the music on Dedication, Zomby has found fascinating and original ways of compensating for the music's lack of acoustic properties. Although there are certainly some well-worn influences here (Vangelis, hints at early electronic pioneers such as Daphne Oram), Zomby's work here appears to offer some clear routes away from post-dubstep cul de sacs. It is rhythmically interesting, and predictably dominated by the effects of sound and texture, but melody and harmony are also restored to a prominent place. Sometimes the music here sounds dislocated, withdrawn and distant, sometimes it sounds surprisingly and welcomingly intimate (especially on Natalia's Song).
Although it is fragmented, it is clearly intended to be approached and digested as a whole, rather than through its individual segments. It is completely out of step with the download, attention deficit era. It has a sense of mostly wordless, musical honesty and candour that demands attention and serious consideration. Sometimes it is its briefest moments that provide the greatest interest - I love the melancholy effect of the percussion sounds on Salamander and the pads on Lucifer. Taken individually, these tracks might seem slight, but within the context of the album as a whole, they are potent and imaginative.
Albums such as Dedication remind me that, although I am a committed acoustic musician, there is much to be learned from the techniques used by electronic producers and much to be appreciated and enjoyed. Listen to the polyrhythmic approach on Digital Rain - a track that manages to be at once musically creative, contemplative and gently humorous. Here and on the wonderful A Devil Lay Here, Zomby brilliantly creates emotional impact from the most detached and ambivalent of sounds.
Dedication may only be fully appreciated with the passing of time, something that is rare for the often more immdediate, constantly flucuating trends of electronic music (I fully confess that I cannot keep up with them). It is one of 2011's most underrated releases.