Over the course of one proper full-length and a slew of genre-testing singles, London producer Zomby has proven, above all else, that he's all about atmosphere. His 2008 self-titled EP for Hyperdub didn't concern itself with the label's strong suit at the time—dubstep, that is—nor did it revel too heavily in its cheap, 8-bit production ethos, instead drumming up a skittery vibe that was both dubwise and, maybe unwillingly, technologically didactic. The same can be said for Where Were U in 92?, a solid nod to rave's and breakbeat hardcore's past that didn't take itself too seriously, while still managing to evoke the era's euphoric feeling, albeit almost from an ethno-musicologist's vantage point. (He's clearly an apt pupil of pirate radio's history, despite his rather young age.) Both records had their roots firmly planted on the dancefloor, but with Dedication, Zomby's first release for the legendary indie label 4AD, he's turned increasingly inward—and it's an entirely welcome trajectory.
While Dedication wasn't made with his recently deceased father in mind—its producer swears that he keeps his personal and musical lives separate, and that these tracks were recorded mostly before his father's passing—its poignantly emotive sound makes it hard to listen to without thinking about in that context. "Natalia's Song," which made the blog rounds in recent months, takes a vocal sample from Irina Dubtzova (the winner of a Russian American Idol-type show) and makes something gorgeous as he chops it up and places it over an insistent garage-y click and layers of melodious synths. It's by far the longest song on the record, and it's the only one that breaches the four-minute mark. In fact, most of these 16 tracks hardly reach two minutes, and when it comes to the shorter bits, Zomby proves that he recognizes the beauty of the song—not just the track—almost like he's dripping droplets of flavor on your tongue for a quick high, leaving you wanting so much more, especially in the case of the tribal "Salamander" (52 seconds), or the sizzling "Lucifer" (57 seconds), whose Timbaland-style synth riff burns so hot that you half expect an MC to jump on it. These song sketches and ideas come from all angles, but they always pay close attention to melody and tone.
But more to the point of atmosphere, Dedication nods to all sorts of soundscapers from UK music's history, whether it's R&B's slick and sultry sounds, "Natalia's Song"'s contemplative underpinning (think '90s rockers The Beautiful South), or the record's many looks toward Olive's club classic "You're Not Alone" (remember those trancey but chill synths?) There's even a somber piano number, entitled "Basquiat," that thickens the primarily instrumental stew. The only thing holding this album back is the somewhat awkward-feeling "Things Fall Apart", which was written and produced with Panda Bear (a.k.a. Noah Lennox), who dresses the minimalist-dubstep tune with some detached, almost childish-sounding vocals. That single misstep aside, Dedication is one incredible record from front to back, so full of feeling, forward momentum, and impeccable programming that it honors all aspects of Zomby's past—whether musical, familial, or otherwise.