I want to say that Zomby's Dedication confounds expectations, but when "surprising" is par for the course, how does one deal with expectations? Dedication arrives not on previous homes Hyperdub or RAMP but indie mega 4AD. Nonetheless, it's similar to past material, a resumption of his penchant for cheekily brief tracks and hyperactive loops.
The titular Dedication is apparently aimed towards Zomby's deceased father, and the entire album carries a solemn and sepulchral quality previously unheard from Zomby. The tracks are unforgivingly excoriated of excessive detail or nuance, with many merely sounding like simple loops cycling and writhing in a predetermined path before fading away (particularly the seeming Salem send-ups of "Witch Hunt" and "Lucifer"). There's something starkly naked about these rawer textures, and even at their simplest Zomby's timbres are uncharacteristically and heartbreakingly funereal, especially the 8-bit cathedral survey "Black Orchid" or the staid, piano-driven "Basquait." Where previous work like "Godzilla" or "Gloop" felt like densely intertwined, mischievous snippets of arpeggio mayhem, here they're unwound and laid bare.
The result could have been an album so mournful as to lose itself in self-serious introspection, but Dedication's brief track lengths mean the album is breezy in a manner unbefitting of its ostensibly grave subject matter. As one track flows into the next—again a reversal of the usual Zomby ethos of all jarring, all the time—Dedication ceases to be a jittery collection of sketches. Even so, there are highlights: Pre-album single "Natalia's Song" chops up a Russian singer into alien intonations that feel like they're being ripped apart in mid-gasp. And lowlights: Panda Bear shows up to sing over "Things Fall Apart," an unnecessary cameo on top of the already distracting stray bits of synth shrapnel that break off from the beat.
Dedication also finally divorces Zomby from the dubstep-centered UK soundsystem culture, because while he might be indebted to 'ardkore, it's hard to find much of anything—except maybe the DMZ dread tones on the classical-tinged "A Devil Lay Here"—that even feels close to the hardcore continuum here. In fact, the only real predecessors you're likely to find are other Zomby records. Which says a lot about the kind of talent we're dealing with. Dedication on 4AD makes sense, because it's exactly the place where Zomby belongs right now. He's not a dance producer nor does he fit into any narrative aside from his own. With Dedication Zomby has crafted a deeply idiosyncratic work of art with all the flaws, eccentricities and moments of brilliance that come with such creative freedom.
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Tracklist: Zomby - Dedication 01. Witch Hunt
02. Natalia’s Song
04. Black Orchid
05. Riding With Death
07. Things Fall Apart
10. Digital Rain
12. A Devil Lay Here