Dedication

12.07.11 Words by: Charlie Jones

Stamped onto the black inner sleeve of the vinyl of Zomby’s black-sleeved album in small, white, sans-serif letters are three words, followed by six numbers: “Dedicated to BDM. 11.11.46 – 25.06.10”. Somewhere in those 64 years is the day BDM’s son Zomby was born, somewhere else the day Zomby, whoever he is, started making music, and the day BDM first heard his son’s remarkable beats, computer music made with abrasion and personality, tracks so maddeningly complex, sardonic and obnoxiously skillful that they earned him a spot at the top of scene. Another time in those numbers that started a year after WWII ended and finished 13 months ago is the day his son signed to 4AD to make an album, ultimately, scarred by the final three numbers, the day he died.

Winded by violent absence, if this album has a place, it’s somewhere desolate you go where you don’t want to be found, the ends of town where ropy ministries and ropier chicken shops sit. If it’s a day, it’s one he hopes rains. Unsurprisingly, it’s not an easy listen – brutal, desolate and wailing, the album actively interrupts you, with songs seeming to start halfway through, or dropping out after a minute, it’s an album of handbrake turns taken on journeys spent trying to crash. Many have criticised the short songs (of 16 tracks, only six are above the 2 minute mark), but to take down ‘Dedication’ for obtuseness misses the point: Zomby has always burned with the old-fashioned idea that music is something bigger, something braver than background, that the artist is more important than the listener; and if this set of songs didn’t perplex, irritate and shock, didn’t pull you violently from the comfort of its astounding melodies, Zomby would have failed in his charge.

Like previous album ‘Where Were You In ‘92’, it uses the tropes of a genre of London dance music as an instrument. But if ‘Where Were You…’ is a love-letter to hardcore, ‘Dedication’ is huddled around a less pleasant palette, using grime’s soundscape, iridescent tones and raucously volatile emotionality, rattling with eski processed gunshots, finger snaps and gasps, glowing with Terror Danjah’s Sidechain’d synths and pulled by Ruff Sqwad’s emo keys. Grime is, like bereavement, both banal and alien, and, as the music of Zomby’s youth, thick with personal resonance. And though he’s said the music on ‘Dedication’ was not written about his father directly, the harsh sounds of Zomby’s youth provide a framework for the album’s grief-stricken concept.

‘Dedication’ is a bleak, bleak album, but through the void shines Zomby’s urge to push melody into stranger and stranger shapes, sharpened into a sense of purpose never before heard. Split into three acts, the first third of the album is raging, wailing, the second distracted, numb, brittle, the final aching but accepting. Genius is not too strong a word for his compositional talents, and it has never been better displayed than on second track Natalia’s Gift, with its almost sobbing synths and wretchedly sad piano loop and tortured vocal, or Black Orchid’s neon synths. On the album’s third act, penultimate tracks Haunted and Basquiat are elegies, played with pianos so pained they approach serene. There’s something of the old Zomby in final track Mozaik’s shimmering synths and cheeky appropriation of Wolfgang Amadeus’s first four letters; and/or the phonetic spelling of a fitting artform – a portrait made of shards that lasts for millennia, art for orgies and villa floors to be washed by centuries of rain.

In Zomby’s interview with Self-Titled, he spoke of his songs as works of art, and this is a grandiose work, in both senses of the word, a record of scale and ambition desperately lacking in modern music of any kind. Zomby also spoke to Self-Titled about making his father proud. Dedication is an astoundingly dedicated album – across the 16 tracks, there’s not one note wasted, not one second un-worked, not one feeling unexplored, not one easy route taken. Sardonic erraticism has characterised his best work, as well as his rep for less than dependable behaviour. Something’s changed, here. Time to knuckle down, you can hear Zomby tell himself throughout this labour of love. It’s an album forced through pain, rubbed raw like red eyes. He is, it has to be said, only just getting started. Somewhere during the recording of this album, Zomby became aware of his greatness, and the dedication it would take to make something fitting of his talents. ‘Dedication’ is a work of supreme ambition and skill, a requiem fitting for the father of a modern master.

9/10

4AD released Zomby’s album ‘Dedication’ on the 11th July 2011

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