Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Zomby presents us with at least half of a really, really good album


Release date: 02 September 2016
26 August 2016, 10:45 Written by Luke Cartledge
Like many of his Hyperdub peers, one of the keys to Zomby’s enduring appeal is the sheer consistency and cohesion of his output.

His impressive knack for marrying expressive harmonic textures with bold, muscular beats is almost always presented to the listener through a permeating haze of reverb and modulation, a security blanket placed upon his tracks to ensure his audience’s willingness to see through his more eccentric aural diversions. On Ultra, the producer’s latest full-length, that timbral constant continues to veil each track, yet it is not matched by the kind of qualitative consistency to which many of his fans will have become accustomed.

Though far from a meritless record, Ultra feels a little slapdash, a collection of semi-interesting ideas and big-name cameos thrown together to make up a running time rather than a considered, through-composed piece of work. Happily, at several key points in the album’s somewhat messy duration, we are treated to moments at which those ideas stick together. The first of these arrives at the start of track three, “Fly 2”, a collaboration with Banshee that centres upon a cyclical, breathless vocal sample that flutters anxiously around clattering percussion until it is dramatically pitched and slowed down. The track changes gear dizzyingly, from a light-footed bound down to a punchdrunk lope, and the effect is stunning.

Indeed, many of Ultra’s strongest tracks are those on which Zomby is mediated by a co-producer. “Quandary”, featuring Darkstar, builds a sinuous groove around jittery, chiming melodies, and “S. D. Y. F.”, a collaboration with Rezzett, is pleasingly heavy and austere, kicked along brutishly by lumpen kicks and metallic snares. Perhaps surprisingly, the only disappointing exception to this rule arrives in the form of “Sweetz”, which features a guest appearance by Burial, Hyperdub’s dark prince against whose impeccably high standards many habitually judge Zomby’s work. Somewhat predictably, the track is laden with many of his trademarks: slick mists of vinyl crackle, brief snippets of wild-eyed speech and the gasps and groans of faraway anxieties. Yet, unlike much of Burial’s solo work, these elements fail to gel on “Sweetz”. The piece is too disjointed to settle into any real groove, yet not sufficiently impressionistic to effectively evoke anything powerful enough to hold the listener’s attention. In many ways, this track represents a microcosm of this LP as a whole. It may be full of half-decent (if over-familiar) ideas, but these are simply lined up alongside one another, occasionally intersected by murky cliché, in the vague hope that their presence alone will be enough to create a focused, unified whole. Unfortunately, it is not.

It’s a shame, because one is never left long enough between album highlights to truly switch off to Ultra’s not-inconsiderable merits. It’s just that, for every time the record’s constituent parts unite into something engaging, one has to sit through extended periods of meandering, directionless twilight, which frequently hints at an interesting diversion but rarely delivers upon such promises. “Glass” for example, is wonderful, a disorientating mesh of bleeping synths and tiptoe rhythms that recalls the stronger moments of Aphex Twin’s 2014 album, Syro. Yet before we arrive at that track, we have to wade through the five tedious minutes of stock “atmosphere” that comprise “ESP” and “I”. Neither of those tracks is bad as such, but we’ve heard it all before, and heard it better executed. In Ultra, Zomby has presented us with at least half of a really, really good album; if only the other half had been treated with greater diligence, invention and attention to detail.

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