Here's the short review of “Dedication”: talented bloke, sometimes a bit foolish, always worth a bet, didn't quite hit bullseye here. The long version is like this. We know few certain facts about Zomby (unless he's unmasked in the tabloids tomorrow like Burial) except that he can be exceptionally good. Take the miniature suite comprising “Lucifer” and “Digital Rain”, suffused with all the pining, honeysuckle perfumery of Aphex Twin at his most empathic. On that note, let's go ahead and call him a chip off the same block as Richard D James. Both are effusively creative, reportedly stockpiling tracks by the hundred. Both have gifts capable of appealing not only to anorakish followers but to whoever chooses music for runway shows and television adverts. Both can be flippant and earnest in equal measure, although Zomby comes off more insolent than impish, thanks to habits like delivering stubs of tunes as finished product, apparently mastered from poor quality MP3.
Over the past four years he has been building up to this, with some outstanding singles and EPs plus “Where Were U In '92?”, a first album that felt like an enjoyable side track, as an homage to a single 12 month period of rave music. Correspondingly, anticipation is high for his second. It is partially repaid, in a variety of moments that aren't to be missed. Apart from what's been mentioned, there's the hollowed-out machine soul of “Riding With Death”, coded in the same tones belonging to a mutant Mr Fingers as James's 1993 album as Polygon Window. There's the evil, gyrating buzz of the bassline on “Vortex”, oiled with offhand, liquid riffing that could have come from Timbaland's workstation and a dusty electric organ respectively. There's the atypical earthiness of “Salamander”, Rhodes, congas and timbales fortunately not in a trite groove but moodily seductive instead. Then there are the music box melodies of “Florence”, tugging on the emotions while in contest with hazy drum patter at some 200 beats per minute.
These moments, however, are just that: some a little over two minutes long, others less than one. In interviews Zomby's own opinion is one to the effect that while such pieces may be small, they're perfectly formed. When he's remarkably consistent, as on his EP for Hyperdub or “Where Where U...”, it holds up. When there are weak points to spoil the mood and indifferent ones to dampen it, it's easy to conclude that he might have given us more. Seemingly passed off as profound, really “Natalia's Song” (which samples the Russian equivalent of a Pop Idol winner) is trashy and portentous. “Things Fall Apart” is not improved by the empathogenic posing of Panda Bear, cut with a poisonous dose of sweetener just like his profiteering hippie band Animal Collective. Zomby's documented pride in the collaboration feels like disappointing credulity. “Basquiat” disappoints too, not least when making the obvious comparison with Aphex's “Druqks” album and its far more accomplished piano interludes. A few tracks feel too much like they could be approximated by a skilled imitator - not bad, but then not animated by the brightest of sparks.
Don't get the wrong idea: it's worth paying sufficient attention to “Dedication”, Zomby's first output to receive conventional release in around two years, compiled in memory of his late father. Afterwards you can continue to enjoy the more daring sketches issued from time to time through a different, more important medium. He has admitted himself that record labels don't know how to keep up with his hyperbolic rate of progression. It's no coincidence that there is a faint scent of mummification around 4AD's curation, and just a little more fun to be had through his YouTube channel.