Mat Zo experiments on innovative ‘Damage Control’

Originally a drum and bass artist, English producer Mat Zo has been a significant presence in trance and progressive house music for the past few years. First discovered in 2007, he was soon taken under the wing of Anjunabeats, the record label of famous U.K. trance trio Above & Beyond. After several years of producing strong records, he finally broke out onto the main stage in 2011 with “Rebound” and “Mozart,” his collaborations with Russian artist Arty. Carrying this momentum into 2012, he released his acclaimed “The Bipolar EP” and later that year, the first two singles from his new album “Damage Control.” Until now, he has had a quiet 2013.

Though Mat Zo is often associated with trance, he has also garnered a reputation as a breaker of genre norms and a challenger of the status quo. “Damage Control,” his debut album, certainly fits these descriptions. The album opens with “Superman Lost,” an ethereal, mystical tune that draws in the listener. This seamlessly slides into the first full-length track, “Only For You,” featuring the vocals of Rachel K. Collier. Though it begins with a gritty synth line, the song steadily eases into a smooth synthscape accompanied by Collier’s crisp vocals. After that comes Zo’s superb collaboration with Porter Robinson: “Easy.” Though the vocals feature only a few short phrases, they ring cleanly throughout the track and the line “loving you is easy” resonates with the listener long after the music has stopped playing.

After the first three tracks, however, the album takes a step in a new direction, working its way into a trippy but captivating medley. With the bass heavy “Caller ID,” Zo takes the listener on a bizarre trip through choppy vocal samples and unique instrumentation. Continuing on this wave of atmospheric music, the album progresses into a more intense, emotional block of songs that ends with “The Sky.” From there, Zo once again shifts toward a more laid back, old school vibe.

As the album approaches its end, Zo pulls out all stops on the single “Lucid Dreams.” Easily the most recognizable track of the album, here Zo perfectly melds melody with volume, giving the listener a full blast of musical sensation. This euphoric eleventh track introduces the home stretch of the album, consisting of “EZ,” “Hurricane,” “Fall Into Dreams” and “Time Dilation.” These four tracks are certainly the most experimental. Reminiscent of a stream of consciousness, these songs lack discernible direction, yet still possess an overall subtle cohesiveness.

“Damage Control is a truly diverse album. Songs like “The Sky” can stand alone very well, and others like “Easy” and “Pyramid Scheme” are perfect dance floor hits. However, some musical numbers like “Caller ID” and “Hurricane” are far more experimental, straying from convention completely. There are no stereotypes utilized in this album, and though some could criticize Zo for musical inconsistency between his dance and avant-garde styles, the experimental portions of the album are certainly not bad — it’s just sometimes difficult to understand the direction of each track.

As a complete record, the album is fluid and is best listened to as an entire work. There is no doubt that Mat Zo’s debut album is eccentric and innovative — but because of its atypical nature, evaluating the record is more a matter of personal opinion than one of general consensus.

Choosing not to be restricted by the painfully general Electronic Dance Music genre label, Mat Zo has created a record true to what music is all about: forgoing tradition in favor of a personal expression of artistic vision.