As much as any solecism-laden string of tweets might lend the appearance of affability, the London-bred, New York-based producer behind the Zomby moniker and mask managed to nail down concision as the defining characteristic of his career early on. Much like another Londoner’s predilection for concealment, Zomby quickly hid behind a Guy Fawkes mask and built a reputation for unreliability after failing to appear at a couple of crucial early gigs.
On his 2008 debut, Where Were U in ’92, a hazy look back at the early days of his beloved jungle, Zomby’s anonymity was a schtick. These were body-heaving, Gucci Mane-sampling homages to the music he’d been making since he was 13 years old–accomplished, but well within the confines of the genre. Three years later, Zomby stocked its lush follow up, Dedication, with boisterous string parts, Amen breaks, and airhorns albeit in an apathetic wash. The producer wept for his father and this emotional atypical focus for the usually ADD Londoner resulted in his best work to date. The rumbles in his jungle were slowed to sobs and he even tagged Panda Bear for his characteristic moan on “Natalia’s Song”. It was bold, honest, and mature, yet also plunged the producer into an abyssal mystery.
On With Love, we find our masked marauder balancing precariously on the line between those first two releases. Rather than emerge with a proper follow up to either of them, Zomby gave us both — only taking himself out of the spotlight. His relative reluctance towards interviews, paired with that effusive Twitter account of his, frames a bizarre portrait of a laid back mastermind living life, however extravagant it might be, and chopping off tracks whenever they’re cooked. As such, With Love is split into two halves. The first half arrives ready for the club, a slightly airier, more vacant version of what he explored on ’92. The cuts still roil and heave, but it’s a high for the mind, not the soul. The second half, however, haunts with tight compositions similar to Dedication. It’s both patient and prescient, even amidst the rapid-fire hi-hats on “Quickening”; proof that when things slow down, shit gets contemplative.
What results from Zomby’s toil is not a cohesive collection. Double albums, at their best, hint at a cinematic scope and overarching vision. Zomby doesn’t have that. “Entropy Smoke” pushes “Digital Smoke” out of the way for a similarly tinted wave of melancholic synth parts in a way that nevertheless sacrifices the slothly head nod that the latter established. It’s all very Zomby, even the self-sabotage. Everything on With Love, and really throughout Zomby’s whole career and life, functions at the whim of the egotist at the head. The track isn’t quite working? Okay, well here’s another. Might as well buy another Givenchy sweater. Oh here’s another blunt of sour diesel or two. Some champagne to wash it down.
It’s all disorienting and, without a doubt, beholden to the blur of a microscopic attention span. But it’s our only real insight into Zomby, the person. So, let’s take sprawl over cohesion: This beautiful mess of splatter-painted hi hats, creaking kick drums, and swooning synth patterns, as confusing as it may be, is something to behold. It’s from Zomby, with love.
Essential Tracks: “Memories”, “Overdose”, and “Quickening”