For a while it seemed like Zomby might have been done. He was becoming an artist known more for his irascible online presence than his musical output. Earlier this year, he released a one-off collaboration with Wiley, "Step 2001," that found him in good form once again. It wasn't his best work, but it was a sign that he still had that glimmer in his eye. And the feeling carries over into Zomby's two Let's Jam EPs, the debut at his new home of XL Recordings.
The first EP is surprising, as it finds Zomby in an unfamiliar sphere: straightforward house music. It's not entirely convincing. The first "Surf" track sounds like an unpolished demo meant for Aus Music, while the second one roughs up the bassline to hit somewhere more pleasingly bumpy. "Slime" is slow and nauseous, reinforcing its 4/4 thump with wobbling dubstep low-end, while "Acid Surf" rounds out the record by throwing some cliché acid signifiers into the mix. All four tracks sound like Zomby trying out house as a stylistic exercise; they're typically solid, but they don't leave an impression.
Let's Jam 2, on the other hand, is the Zomby we know and love: floaty broken beats, fluorescent synths and chords as clear and sharp as glass. If the first EP feels like four versions of the same house track, its counterpart is five versions of the archetypal Zomby tune. And he does it especially well here. The minimalism of "Neon" feels invigorated by the weightless grime of Mumdance and Logos, while "Bloom" and "Xenon" are more classically Zomby, incorporating trap influences and looking back to With Love. The gunshots on "Bloom," suspended in mid-air and pushed along by graceful synth work, are almost stately. It's that kind of contrast that sits at the heart of what Zomby does: he's the violent guy who makes pretty music (music that hits hard in spite of its obvious beauty). Even if his XL debuts are uneven, it's nice to have him back.