The UK Bass scene may very well have found its answer to J. Dilla’s Donuts. On Dedication, his second full-length and first release with indie stalwart 4AD, the enigmatic Zomby has crafted a deeply personal album that showcases his ability to put his own stamp on nearly any style of music.
An album concerned as much with Zomby’s characteristic bleeps and bloops as it is with southern rap, Dedication is perhaps the only record this year that could feasibly draw favorable comparisons to Burial, Lex Luger and Steve Reich depending upon where you drop the needle. At a scant thirty-five minutes, it’s a record that introduces an idea, explores and develops it, and then moves on before it can overstay its welcome. Sometimes, this takes less than a minute. At other times, it takes four and a half. It’s a brilliant strategy, one that gives the record astonishing depth, as Dedication is loaded with nooks and crannies, left turns and dead ends for the listener to explore.
In many ways, Dedication is Zomby’s true debut. After catching the public’s ear with a series of hard-hitting, eskibeat inspired dubstep singles on labels such as Hyperdub and Brainmath, Zomby subverted expectations for his debut, largely forgoing dubstep for the retro Where Were U In ’92?, a record crafted on vintage equipment that showed more than a little sonic debt to Golden Age ‘ardcore. It was a good move, and it allowed Zomby to approach every track trying to answer the question of how he could filter modern sounds through old-school recording techniques. The results were like nothing else out there.
This time around, Zomby isn’t constraining himself. This record sounds big. “Salamander” has tribal drums and what may very well be a marimba. “Lucifer” sounds so big that Rick Ross should be rapping over it, its grinding crank carrying over into the follow-up “Digital Rain.” Perhaps the most “important” song on here is “Things Fall Apart,” Zomby’s Panda Bear collaboration. It might be the biggest misfire on the album, Panda sounding lost at sea atop its shimmering keys and gun sounds – the track sounds like it’s primed for Pastor Troy, and instead we get Panda Bear. “Natalia’s Song,” the other song that features prominent use of vocals, might be the album’s best. It’s Zomby’s take on the pitched-up, breathy samples that producers like Burial and James Blake do so well, and he beats those guys at their own game, crafting a tense, hiccoughing, minimal masterpiece.
The dedication hinted at in the album’s title is to Zomby’s father, who passed away during the recording of the album. Despite its full sound, there is a certain strain of melancholy running through Dedication, especially evident on the dirgey drones of “Vortex” and the somber piano of “Basquiat.” Zomby stated his intention with creating this album was reaching a wider audience while retaining his essence as a producer. He’s done just that. It’s been a pleasure watching Zomby develop to the point he’s at now, and it’s exciting to see where he’s going to go from here. With any luck, he might just get a call from Gucci Mane. After Dedication, he sure as hell deserves one.