Vast Emptiness. Zomby, With Love.

Vast Emptiness. Zomby, With Love.

Determinedly enigmatic London denizen Zomby will always be one to incisively split opinion but whatever we may think of the man behind the mask forever firmly affixed to an open bottle of champers, his previous full-length escapade – 2011 LP Dedication – was quite incontrovertibly the magnum opus of of an incontestable master. Brimming with suburban distrust and reverberant gunshots with strangely pristine melodies only intermittently intermingled with the sounds of a splintered Britain, it was precisely how you’d imagine the soundtrack to a trepidatious disappearing down some ominously dank back alley to sound. The stench of fetid urine overwhelming and your fate uncertain as the aforesaid pisser’s next piss-up, it perfectly epitomised the paranoiac suspicions and socioeconomic hesitations of a modern-day UK but it simultaneously set a hard task to follow – a reality of which Zomby is seemingly only too aware, as he here opts to embark upon an unprecedentedly audacious double album (likely sardonically) entitled With Love.

For Zomby is a distinctly obdurate producer: he works, as all artists indubitably should, entirely on his own terms; construes criticism, however constructive, as a vitriolic attack on he as a person; and as such would doubtless never deliver any which album from London With Love. But his patent obstinance this time results in the gloopy hodgepodge we’re here presented with.

Indeed the album itself isn’t quite as expansive as its thirty-three tracks listed may insinuate, with each averaging considerably less than three minutes. Only one – the appositely introspective, and temperately scintillating Memories – breaks the four-minute barrier and as anyone ever to have scripted songs to CD-R will be only too aware, a record spanning just shy of eighty-odd could in fact be squeezed onto just the one disc.

But there is a concerted element of braggadocio intrinsically linked to all Zomby touches, and that’s certainly the case here. It’s reflected in the aural swagger of How To Ascend; the dark shimmer of the Last Japan-featuring Pyrex Nights; the profoundly reverberant trills of Sphinx. Yet whereas these three pieces have a palpable feel of stylistic cohesion to them (they all incidentally feature on the significantly more cogent second segment), With Love can elsewhere prove a perplexingly convoluted and at times pretty irritating listen.

Never is this more so than midway through its first part: a disorienting cocktail of Overdose (overly acidic breakbeat), Pray For Me (deplorably short, and consequently superfluous) and Rendezvous (lethargic garage slowed to a particularly lugubrious bpm) brings with it the bitter taste of disinterest and with this triptych lasting only a smidgen over seven in total, each lacks the prerequisite time to develop into an individual piece of singular merit. And it’s this moot point where Zomby most acutely appears to have lost his touch, for the true triumph of Dedication lay in his highly dextrous ability to produce throbbing bits of grizzly brilliance which, fully fleshed out, would then be adeptly peppered with intricate interludes to again span all sorts of styles, but without ever compromising on an overarching coherence. It built ’til it hit a dramatic crescendo in its lattermost moments, climaxing with the glitchy fragmented excellence of Mozaik. But with this arrangement split right down the middle (we depart CD1 on a sour note with the nonessential hardcore breaks of 777, before picking back up with the ponderous Asiatica of Black Rose) and given the stylistic whimsicality exhibited throughout, With Love is precariously low on flow.

It’s thus an album bulging with idea, if only very rarely invention: the alluringly broody skulk of Horrid is quintessential stuff from the elusive Eskibeat practitioner, but it never even so much as menaces to break the mould. The same can be said of the sketchy twitching to I Saw Golden Light and the oppressive atmospheres of Soliloquy, both of which again purvey Zomby’s nigh on inimitable capacity to provoke a perceptible fear with only his genuinely idiosyncratic brand of British urban as arsenal. But as he himself suggests with another unremarkable number entitled Vast Emptiness, With Love is more often than not just that: it neither pushes, nor even so much as nudges the envelope and although now an altogether weightier one, the double album makes for an exponentially heavier listening experience. Tough love…

Released: June 17th, 2013 [4AD]

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