June 20, 2013

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Son Raw – with trepidation

Zomby might just be the most idiosyncratic producer of his generation, and that includes the ghost of Burial, the paladinesque Mala and the mercurial Shackleton. Whether trolling his twitter followers, indulging in high art or chastising the world for not recognizing the brilliance of street music from Jungle to Trap, he’s crafted a persona approximating that of a dance music Kanye West, but without the desire for pop appeal. This strictly underground ethos is front and center on With Love – a massive double album indulging in his passion for circular song structures and disjointed pacing.

It’s an aesthetic that’s equal part fascinating and frustrating. Zomby could have expanded his best ideas, cut out the lesser ones and made a brilliant album but that just wouldn’t be Zomby. Instead, his best moments including the dread opener “As Darkness Falls,” the hardcore “It’s Time,” the junglist “Overdoze” and the shimmering “Glass Ocean” are gone almost as soon as they’ve settled into a groove. The results closely resemble a Madlib Medicine show turned inside out: an ADD addled trek exploring a cold, digital funk miles from dusty Californian crates. As such, it’s best listened to bong in hand at 3AM.

By now most of Zomby’s fans have given up on hopes that he’ll ever indulge in traditional song structure, but the cluttered presentation still means that With Love sometimes feels like less than the sum of its parts. Disc 1 is definitely the stronger of the two, concentrating on the producer’s breakbeat pastiches and swirling psychedelia. At their best, these songs project you into the middle of the world’s greatest warehouse party, offering a high energy counterpoint to the aforementioned Burial’s melancholy end-of-rave anthems. Disc 2 more closely resembles the morose mood pieces of 2011’s Dedication, only now the sparkling synths are surrounded by skittering hi-hats straight out the Atlanta playbook. I’ll give the guy credit: Waka would sound fantastic over this kind of gothic chill but after 10 years of actual trap and a year where amateur EDM kids basically killed the entire idea, is anyone still actually excited by these drum patterns?

But hey, that’s just Zomby being Zomby. If With Love’s better moments are fleeting, so are its weaker ones and if you let the music wash over you, the album becomes electrifying in its own right, a paranoid exploration of dark moods and lonely nights. It isn’t easy and sometimes it’s too clever for its own good, but I’ll be damned if it sounds like anything else out there.

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