Ian Maleney on Nothing, the new EP from Zomby.
Zomby is a funny guy. At least, I think he might be. His Twitter has always been a laugh, anonymity is great fun in the least private age ever (hey there Will Bevan!) and you could look at his regular skipping of gigs as charmingly anti-industry or just plain old childish. Whatever you think of the man behind the mask, his music stands by itself. In a way it has no choice because it comes from this relative blankness and it gives nothing away about its creator. Where Were You In ’92 was a pretty stellar immersion in rave, drum and bass and basically anything that sounds good with a siren over the top. It wasn’t particularly deep or technical but it had one goal in mind and it achieved it spectacularly. It was and remains a superb album to lose your mind to in a dark room, rendered timeless by plundering so obviously and unashamedly, not so much a tribute or pastiche as a genuine update. Amidst all its neon smoke and whistle-blowing, there were elements of a more modern sound, moments of reflection which hinted at the UK garage scene and a love for all things Burial. It was this element which came to the fore on this year’s follow-up full-length, Dedication. That was a difficult album to love, not bad by any means but lacking in impact. The songs were short and dark, working best within a mix or DJ set rather than as standalone tracks. There were interesting moments though, new types of beats and an ever greater sense of restraint which made it a tough record to forget about.
The follow up to Dedication is a seven-track EP known as Nothing and it picks up the separate threads left by its predecessors. Clocking in at twenty-two minutes, the songs are all kept relatively brief and this suits the mood well. It kicks off with ‘Labyrinth’, a throwback to ’92 with a rapid drum and bass rhythm underpinning a totally nineties vocal sample. It’s fast, dubby, dark and danceable and ultimately makes for a great way to kick things off. In a roundabout way, it sets a mood which somehow persists through the rests of the tracks. Despite some massive shifts in style from the opener, the following songs retain the sense of fun that fuels the first track. ‘Digital Fractal’ and ‘Equinox’ use subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) shifts in swing and tempo to keep things moving, changing from phrase to phrase and developing over time without ever straying too far from their original path. It makes for engaging listening, sucking you in with repetitious synth lines and beats which gradually shift underneath before depositing you two or three minutes later into a new track with a fresh beat and a whole new mindset.
It’s this sense of movement through the record which really makes it standout from Zomby’s other offering this year. Where Dedication was sometimes awkward and seemed to stagger through it’s running time, Nothing flies by in no time and invites repetition through its brevity and flow. Closing track, ‘Ecstasy Versions’ ramps up the tempo again with a rolling break-beat cut straight from the drum and bass cloth. It makes perfect sense to leave things on a loop then as ‘Labyrinth’ kicks back in again. Here the songs feel like songs, like actual compositions, with that wonderful sense of slow growth that works so well for the producers that he clearly admires, from Burial to Wiley to Pantha Du Prince. Some of the tracks on Dedication felt like holding tracks in a live set, little more than beats to keep things going while the DJ seeks out something else. Nothing is stacked full of tracks that are worth seeking out, not attention grabbing in the slightest but more likely to make the perfectly subtle impact which can take a night to another level. It’s all about the details in music like this and on Nothing, Zomby has them nailed down tight.