Don’t be embarrassed if at one point you thought dubstep would grab the charts and critics with a little more fervor. Deadmau5 and Skrillex inevitably perverted the genre for mindless dude-bros, while Burial and James Blake went straight to post-dubstep artistic statements. Meanwhile, it felt like Joker and other big-label signings left behind what brought them to the dance; most notably, his label-mate Zomby (who joined 4AD with him in 2011) promptly had 2011’s Dedication fall by the wayside. Undeterred, Zomby employs a more-is-more strategy on With Love, and to much better effect.
With Dedication, it seems as though Zomby wanted to go so far into the future that his music stopped feeling like actual dubstep. With Love finds him rejoining the ranks to represent dubstep’s present and past. It’s a massive effort, the likes of which have not been seen since Five Years of Hyperdub, a compilation and a label where both Zomby and Joker figured prominently. There’s a rare playfulness to the music here: How many songs form 140 BPM mini-suites, such as when “Digital Smoke” fades into “Entropy Sketch”? Do any have self-contained bass-drop experiments like “Memories”? Which are rhythmic speed bumps like faux-house track “VI-XI”? One wonders: Do you listen straight through, or do you hop around on shuffle?
What With Love actually feels like, however, is New Forms—the double-album Roni Size and Reprazent used to pinpoint the epicenter of drum’n’bass in the late 1990s. This study in musical lineage, however, seems both a natural progression and intentional move on Zomby’s part. One genre’s fast rhythms and recognizable range of samples eventually bled into the other; you can even hear Zomby pay direct homage on tracks like “Overdose” and “777.” Much like Size did in 1997, Zomby conveys a mastery of the supposedly limited palette of styles and sounds throughout With Love where he failed to do so on Dedication. Dubstep’s few so-called epic releases have rarely typified how the genre gets described by word of mouth or on paper. However, this one does just that.