“Ultra” is the fourth full-length album from the masked London based producer, who returns to Steve Goodman (Kode9)’ imprint after 8 years, where he released two breakthrough EPs in 2008, and contributed to “5: Five Years of Hyperdub” compilation (2009) before his provisional departure. It’s a homecoming of 13 tracks plus “Tenkyuu” (Digital Only), including guest spots by Burial, Banshee and Darkstar to which are added 2814’s Hong Kong Express (Dream Catalogue) and Rezeett-! (The Trilogy Tape).
Basically, it’s music for the head though not one might refuse its counteract potential for a signature’s spin. Zomby needs that kind of friendly support to signify his sound, because “Ultra” is a turning point from his deep, rooted UK centric vision. It’s more than his ever twisting manners, his well known interlaced dubstep, UK garage, jungle, and eskibeat. This time it’s a radical reflection about which direction to take, confronting all those sentimental memories related to his music and outlined in years of experience to draw a conclusion. He describes the process, simply and sincerely. It all comes with some virtues, not only for the bravery of observing himself but for being almost a statement to include in what it’s called hardcore continuum. He works with the personal hallmarks of what he does best, cutting vivid traces of eski-grime, R&B, hardcore and jungle but, in this case, in a restrictive length, enough for being indentifiable assets, to encrypt a wrapped up thaw that belongs to nothing but him.
“Ultra” is a soundscape, a laboratory of musical thoughts, placed with a lot of space around, isolated in central position, on a flat field. There are many late nights in it, remembered as hooded up walking but mostly being locked to the green screen glow of enlightenment. A rainy one is falling intense as drops of a dialogue. There are also few steps to the window for street’ echoing, but lots of retro video games and memory sounds that belong personally to him and, in general, to the 90s rave culture.
Some goes directly to previous albums, like “Isis” (“With Love”, 2013) coming down into “Reflection” for the opening track, a sci-fi bleeped thesis with a female voice concluding “What is a reflection?” Zombie knows how to put the answer. He deconstructs from the Wiley Kat’ beginnings of grime to remote UK hardcore tunes and those buried in deep old school of jungle. It’s a waving goodbye exercise, described from key notes, mental snapshots of what to keep and what to refuse, what to “Freeze” and what to “Thaw”. In that sense, once are identified there are no worthy anymore: time to fade out, as unceremoniously they were in.
With the complicity of labelmate Burial’s narrative and cinematic ways, he creates “Sweetz” as an interrupted chapters of stylish outputs layered under a ghetto house in jungle, a drum shuffle melting fragments of a life, only being basted by a vocal loop repeating “Got me fucked up”, surely one that will love any trap follower. There is something of crossover appeal in “Fly2”, where Banshee’s heavy breath turns into an abroad R&B kind of taste of what Zombie & ReARK did for “Natalia’s Song”, a “Dedication” (2011) track. Zomby finishes what was “Reflection in Black Glass” and extends it onto pristine “Glass” garage bounce that relates to Kode9 and LD collaboration. Jungle is London inflected in Caribbean steel-drums, and that can be found as “Quandary”, for the purpose of Zomby & Darkstar.
Apart from “Sweetz”, which gives extra value to “Ultra”, having not heard anything from Burial since his single “Temple Sleeper” (2015), the album adventures into the territories of slow wave, in the vain of Andy Stott, with tracks like “Her”, the ambient jungle of “S.D.Y.F.” made with Rezzett-!, and the sodden conclusion of “Tenkyuu”, produced with 2814’s Hong Kong Express.
Beyond that (I might use the latin word “ultra”), this intimacy capsule reveals an updated and personal example of what british musicians had been doing always, from swing era to the digital reigns of electronics. That is a syncretic ability of choosing from anywhere to appropriate common patrons and transform them into something new, to be marked as indelible work from perfidious Albion.