Mysterious producer continues to push the envelope...
'Ultra' artwork

Zomby returns with the follow-up to the double album in inverted commas that was ‘With Love’ – that record a cobbled collection of clips and half ideas that needed 33 tracks to fill out the grooves. Not a bad thing, per se – this writer will happily sit through a punk record with no song clocking in over two minutes – but something that requires some sliver of a binding theme (other than brevity) to hold the lot together, which ‘With Love’ (Clash review) sorely lacked.

Three years later we have ‘Ultra’. Working once more with Kode9’s Hyperdub imprint, having moved on from 4AD, Zomby maintains his fine label pedigree – skipping through the cream of the independent crop in a way not dissimilar to how guiding influence Wiley has done in the past.

This album certainly comes at a time when there is a good appetite for the eski sound pioneered by Wiley and adopted by Zomby, but also at a time in which people have had enough of identikit reproductions. Fans are, for the most part, willing to give time only to those managing to do something at least verging on original with the ubiquitous clicks and squares.

Lucky for Zomby. ‘Reflection’ and ‘Burst’ provide a top drawer opening to the album, and there’s more to like within too.

Aside from icy grime, all the usual influences are here: a gorgeous jungle lick in the form of ‘S.D.Y.F.’ in collaboration with Rezzett; garage skip on ‘I’; and a hint of 4x4 hardcore on ‘Glass.’

There’s still a fair amount of self indulgence, and the rare occasion on which you wish he’d stuck to the old habit of micro length tracks (‘HER’ being one such example), but on the whole it’s a well selected body of work.

‘Sweetz’ – a collaboration with Burial – got tongues wagging ahead of the release, but in fact isn’t a fair representation of the album (least of all how good it is). It sounds cluttered and involves little of the depth or soul you might expect from Burial, and not much or the earworm eight bar phrases and edgy tics that have made Zomby so enduring.

Far better on the collaboration front are the sinogrime-esque ‘Quandary’ with Darkstar and the aforementioned link-up with Rezzett.

Ultimately, the one thing you can rely on from Zomby is a reminder that he’s going to continue to keep pushing the envelope – an envelope firmly stamped with his own name and sonic identity, granted, but he’ll push it nonetheless.

Existing fans won’t be disappointed, and with this record he might even gain some new ones – provided he doesn’t end up cussing them out on Twitter…

6/10

Words: Will Pritchard (@Hedmuk)

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