Divisive, enigmatic, mask-wearing Zomby will probably be chuffed to read a review of his third album ‘With Love’ that opens with such mysterious adjectives – ones that play right into the myth of elusiveness that electronic music’s most self-important producer wants to foster. But you know what? He might be all of those things, but he’s also a massive attention-seeker running a sideline career in being the biggest dickhead on Twitter, which is a far less poetic decoration. And though it shouldn’t matter, his neurotically self-aggrandising and unself-aware timeline reveals more about the record’s motivation than you’d expect.
The title, ‘With Love’, ostensibly suggests a gesture of the producer’s willingness to enter into a heartfelt communion with the record’s listeners, and the opening 8-bit plucks of ‘As Darkness Falls’ slide into a reassuring two-step shuffle that promises so much. But two minutes later we’ve already passed into track two, ‘Ascension’, which itself expires in under a minute, and before you know it the record has descended into a montage of variously engaged dance cuts, none longer than a Tweet.
It begs to be compared to ‘Richard D James’-era Aphex Twin. But that would be an overstatement of Zomby’s ability, and ‘With Love’ is too pompously curated and lacking in the empathy that fuels all great dance music to deserve the accolade. Individually, each track contains a germ of greatness (‘Orion’ could potentially have been spun into a full-on trap anthem), but in quick succession they become a bite-sized cacophony. What starts out intriguing ends up irritating, as each track drops with a shortsighted selfishness that never lets the listener ride with it. Rather than uniting listeners in shared ecstasy it ends up feeling like the sonic equivalent of Zomby having a naked, coke-fuelled power-wank while admiring himself in the mirror of a three-star apartment in Ibiza while everyone else is having fun elsewhere.
Disc two is the flipside of this narcissism, when the misunderstood genius goes home to wallow in his disaffection and alienation from the world. It’s much better and probably should have been released on its own – not least because it actually feels honest. Closer to the ghostly embrace of 2011’s heartache-imbued ‘Dedication’, tracks like ‘I Saw Golden Light’ roll with the lilt of what’s come to be known as Sinogrime, and the final 16 tracks on ‘With Love’ command this review’s sympathetic final score.
But all these conflicting ideas ultimately break down Zomby’s ruse. What could be mistaken for something approaching a masterpiece reveals itself as far more hollow – the sound of a genre-hopping troll demanding the world acknowledge his perceived greatness, regardless of its validity.