Published Aug 31, 2016UK producer Zomby's past releases have consistently harkened back to harder styles like jungle and early rave, and while they're still somewhat evident on surprisingly sombre new LP, Ultra, they're stretched and cooled off into an icier versions of themselves.
"Fly 2" features a nod back to the anthemic vocals of early '90s dance music and "S.D.Y.F." has a loose footing in old-school drum'n'bass, but both are run through a sort of dystopian filter, rendering them altogether different from their energetic origins. Ultra is very much downtempo throughout, which isn't a bad thing in itself — Zomby is more than capable of pulling off this kind of style — but the album is marred by cul de sacs of quietude. There's an unnecessary amount of two-minute scribblings that go absolutely nowhere, except to show you that Zomby can make some eerie tones when he puts his mind to it.
This isn't to say that Ultra is without high points. If there's anyone more elusive than Zomby, it's Burial, and although they probably had to agree on a hooded meeting in parts unknown, their collaborative effort is pretty astounding. "Sweetz" is yet another demonstration that Burial can somehow put his undeniable stamp on a track without stealing the show, just as he's done in the past with Four Tet and Thom Yorke. Other highlights include "Her," which sounds like a medley of multiple Boards of Canada tracks squished together, and "Quandary," featuring Darkstar, which manages to sound tropical and sinister at the same time.
Despite its occasional glories though, Ultra remains an album that doesn't really want to let you in. Zomby changes style a frustrating amount, and all of it crawls along at a painstaking speed. He's gone for something different here, which is commendable, but the end product, sadly, comes off more pretentious than deep. (Hyperdub)