Zomby, ‘With Love’ – Album Review
Zomby’s fourth full-length, 'With Love,' is a monolithic, daunting and unwieldy hour and a half of music. It’s one of the more ambitious projects to emerge from the vibrant, ever-changing landscape of U.K. dance music in a while, not to mention one of the most diverse and all-encompassing electronic releases in recent memory.
But Zomby has always worked in a realm of his own, and 'With Love' seeks to explore and draw connections between every facet of the producer’s persona -- from the paranoid, purist U.K. bass strains of his debut, 'Where Were You In ‘92,' to the insular, downcast beat molds of his last record and first for 4AD, 'Devotion.'
Zomby's sonic touchstones are all over 'With Love': distant airhorns, repeated hype-man vocal samples (“It’s time to get f---ing mental”), cloudy rave textures, skittering hi-hats and bottomless U.K. dubstep atmospherics. The album is sequenced into a single continuous behemoth, each track ending by jumping straight into the next. It works to deliver a fast-paced turnstyle of ideas, no hook or texture overstaying its welcome, and it suits Zomby’s songwriting style, which hovers more often than it builds.
'With Love' is divided into two parts, each occupying its own disc. Both offer different but complementary tonal and emotional experiences. The first is decidedly darker and more malevolent and plays like a pseudo-dance mix of echo-chamber jungle, grime and dubstep, with deep-tissue bass hooks, schizoid synth arpeggios and rocky drum loops. The second is drawn in broader strokes, weaving through melancholy ambient pieces, crystalline synth melodies and more cloistered and weightless beat styles. It’s a more patient and internal suite of tracks, playing like the shaky comedown of the record’s first part.
Both sides take more than a few listens to wrap your head around, and with 33 tracks, it’s no surprise the record can wander a bit. But it’s best just to let it do its thing. 'With Love' is one of those journeys where it's worth getting a little lost and off track at times. You’ll ultimately end up at your destination, but there are a few unexpected and worthwhile surprises along the way. The drum ‘n’ bass finale to the first disc, ‘777,’ for instance, or the slow-motion rave of 'Pyrex Nights' and its cough-syrup followup, 'Quickening,' which come out of nowhere during the record’s second half.
'With Love' finds Zomby looking inward, toying with subtle emotions and disassembling his own aesthetic and approach to fill the record with everything that he is. It’s the best kind of record -- one that searches for answers within the artist. There’s a subtle build throughout the second half -- a certain anxiousness that climbs as the tracks progress. It feels like Zomby is coming closer and closer to spotting his own reflection. The record ends with the title track, a three-minute crackle-addled ambient piece that suggests the producer is coming to an uncertain peace with everything that’s preceded it. For us, it’s probably best to just start the record over again.