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Album Review: Zomby – Dedication

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Americans who aren’t fervent followers of the UK’s ever-evolving music scene could be excused for panicking at the thought of “post-dubstep”. To be sure, it hasn’t yet been a year since James Blake and witch-house invaded our shores and blogosphere, respectively. And it seems like just yesterday that Britney Spears’ production team was scrambling to include trendier mid-range wobble on this year’s Femme Fatale and Deadmau5 — that dreaded, seemingly permanent fixture on the festival rave tent circuit —  embraced the dubbier side of things.

But even as it’s only just beginning to make a name for itself stateside, nearly four years after it broke into the UK’s musical consciousness (arguably with the release of Burial’s Mercury Prize nominated masterpiece, Untrue), it’s moved deep into that dreaded post territory. Zomby, the genre’s resident shadowy character, is a big part of that; he was already far past rave, breakbeats, hardcore, dubstep, and just about everything else when his debut full-length dropped back in ’08. He and his music have only grown hazier since then, playing gigs (at least the ones he makes it to) and conducting interviews in near total anonymity while releasing an unsteady (but compelling all the same) stream of new music. All that considered, news that his forthcoming sophomore effort would be released on 4AD came as a bit of a shock. Even as the label has widened their palette to include a wildly variant assortment of indie music in recent years (tUnE-yArDs’ whokill has been one of 2011’s most acclaimed releases), Zomby and his arcane brand of dub don’t immediately sound like a perfect fit with the imprint’s famously dreamy back-catalog.

Good thing, then, that Dedication is as solid a record as it shapes up to be, an intriguing tangent to Los Angeles beat stalwarts Brainfeeder and Alpha Pup Records’ steady output of stellar instrumental hip-hop and dubstep releases. From the tongue-in-cheek gunshot/fingersnap swagger of opener “Witch Hunt” to the sinister, otherworldly  “A Devil Lay Here”, Zomby seems simultaneously more measured and frenetic than ever before. Rather than excavate his rave roots as reverently as he did on his debut, the producer bounds between styles and themes with a heady sense of attention deficit disorder (all but two tracks don’t outlive the three minute mark). Instead of detracting much from the record’s power though, it’s that nebulous, unfocused energy that drives most of the album: Dedication doesn’t quite go anywhere, nor does it seem to have to.

An obvious highlight is the Panda Bear collabo “Things Fall Apart”, on which the Animal Collective luminary sounds oddly at home toasting over a menacing dub skitter. While little of the album bears the immediate impact of Zomby’s best work (“Tears in the Rain”, “Spliff Dub”), this latest offering from the spectral producer proves much more enduring a record than he seemed capable of a couple of years back and one that makes as solid a case as is imaginable for integrating dubstep into the mainstream as one of the genre’s first great releases on a label not named Hyperdub or NinjaTune. And with 4AD’s signing of star producer Joker, Dedication certainly won’t be the last.

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