In a current New York Times profile on modern artist James Turrell, his contemporary Chuck Close describes Turrell as, “an orchestrator of experience, not a creator of cheap effects. And every artist knows how cheap an effect is, and how revolutionary an experience.” The same can be said of the enigmatic electronic musician Zomby, who has brazenly moved beyond the clever but tawdry sonic tricks that permeated his early work in favour of something richer and far more cerebral with his current offerings, as he continues to boldly push the electronic scene forward while also joyously celebrating its fitful past.
Throughout Zomby’s intoxicating new record, With Love, there is both a measured serenity and a restless creative spirit pulsing within the dark, imaginative shadows of each song on the expansive two-volume set. Despite his recent move from London to New York City, the venerable contours of the English capitol still beats within the heart of these entrancing numbers, which continue the absorbing, bass-driven nature of Zomby’s previous albums, while still adding adventurous new layers upon his ever-expanding sonic palette. Zomby, much like Jack White, continually places confining parameters on himself and his creative process, tirelessly trying to coax the most imaginative, unlikely sounds out of his comparatively archaic equipment, which gives his fresh, textured sound both a weathered naturalism as well as a wistful elegance.
While the 33-song set might appear dense at first glance (and even upon first listen), the taut but tension-filled tracks all breeze by in a cohesive, ethereal churn, with the first volume taking on more of an ominous, dynamic ambience, while the second half has a more serene vibe and tempo. But the collection doesn’t have any superfluous noise at all, with Zomby crafting each tune meticulously, with every nuance and texture adding to the tracks relentless vitality.
The first volume appropriately launches with the moody, futuristic alarms of ‘As Darkness Falls,’ which has the listener enveloped in Zomby’s mercurial spirit straight from the start. The slight, Burial-like detour of ‘Ascension’ serves as a fluid intro to the far more extensive ‘Horrid,’ which certainly bristles with a simmering menace that never fully alights. That slow-burning tension is eventually released on the decidedly old-school swing of ‘It’s Time,’ with the threatening vocal hook demanding that “It’s time to get fucking mental,” as the insistent beat and video game-like sound effects come at you from all directions.
The rest of the first volume only builds on that momentum, as the nostalgic clatter of ‘Memories’ and the drum ‘n’ bass urgency of ‘Overdose’ flows smoothly into more reflective sonic excursions like ‘Pray For Me’ and ‘Rendezvous.’ But even with all of the styles and techniques that Zomby burns through from one track to the next, the whole work maintains a hazy harmony that only grows stronger as the record plays on.
After the ghostly tones of ‘Vanishment,’ the first volume ends with a series of Roman numeral-named tracks and the divinely-titled ’777,’ with ‘VI-XI’ setting the end of the opening section ablaze while the pensive but propulsive ‘VxV’ suggests that you just get comfortable while watching everything burn. Zomby quickly does away with the saintly undertones of ’777′ by drilling the track’s hostile beats home before the album makes a somber stylistic shift on its second half.
The doleful ‘Black Rose’ launches the second volume with an orchestral sophistication, while reflecting back on the album’s stark but striking cover art. ‘Digital Smoke’ and its companion piece ‘Entropy Sketch’ both are unquestionable club bangers that quickly put to rest any questions that the record or Zomby himself has run out of creative steam by this point. And while the rest of the album certainly has a gritty, somnolent aura about it, the songs clearly don’t lack a spark. The ruminative ‘Glass Ocean’ evokes images of flight high above unfamiliar waters, while ‘How To Ascend’ is the more fully-realized twin to the first volume’s cursory ‘Ascension’.
There are also plenty of spiritual themes explored on With Love‘s second half, as ‘Shiva,’ ‘Sphinx,’ and ‘White Smoke’ all impart mystical, sacred undertones, even if the music itself never approaches such overt righteousness. The titles themselves imply that Zomby is searching for answers and a truer sense of self within these sonic journeys, and while the songs don’t necessarily unlock any of those eternal puzzles, they at least provide some comfort and solace while we all struggle to find our own distinct path. There are plenty of small discoveries to be found within each of With Love‘s intricate sound trips, but there is enough mystery and intrigue injected into each textured layer to keep you wanting to find new ways to get lost.