Mat Zo Gives the 'Illusion of Depth' with Turn-of-the-Millennium Electronic Sounds
Published Oct 08, 2020After two successful albums — 2013's Damage Control even earned a Grammy nomination — London DJ/producer Mat Zo has returned with Illusion of Depth, an energetic and (as usual) stylistically eclectic tour, this time through the landscape of late '90s and early '00s electronic music. There's dancehall-inflected big-beat in the vein of Groove Armada, Daft Punk-style disco-funk, and lots of Chemical Brothers worship (some embarrassingly devout) — all held together with Zo's steady hand.
This variety definitely keeps things feeling fresh, but there's also a tendency here to indulge too heavily in some of the aspects of these styles that caused them to fall out of favour in the first place — press material kindly describes the style as "brash," but "obnoxious" would be more accurate. Zo's instincts navigating this era are otherwise good though, and the pleasant surprises on Illusion of Depth ultimately outweigh the missteps.
That said, he doesn't exactly put his best foot forward, opening the album "In Media Res," a tiresome exercise in pounding beats and drawn-out buildups that never lead to anything worthwhile. Zo unfortunately has a real soft spot for uninspired Fatboy Slim-style builds like this, the kind where you can tell after the first half-second how he's going to handle the next 30.
No one looms more largely over the album than the Chemical Brothers however — especially on "Problems," which mimics the style, structure, production and instrumentation of the Brothers' "Out of Control" (track three from 1999's Surrender, look it up) so closely your eyes will bug out. Zo nails it often enough, however, distilling the swaggering attitude of the period well on driving cuts like "The Next Chapter" and "Petrushka" for instance, both of which wind and pulse with a late '90s, Wipeout XL-type energy; cool stuff.
Also successful are the moments when Zo reverts to what is arguably his signature style — the glitched out, starry-eyed EDM of the early 2010s that he helped popularize with the likes of Porter Robinson and Zedd, a style he's on record saying he tried to explicitly distance himself from here. Fair enough, but late album highlights "Dangerous Feeling" (a revisiting of the euphoric palette from "Easy," the cut that helped earn him his Grammy nod on Damage Control), and the blissed-out "Colours", which sounds like a long-lost gem from one of your old Ministry of Sound comps, threaten to steal the show from all the heavy-handed, big-beat bluster that precedes them.
Zo manages to keep his feet in two separate eras fairly successfully here, and if Illusion of Depth is a bit of a mixed bag, it at least means you're more likely than not to find something you like in it. (Anjunabeats)