Moby was making electronic dance music hits before we knew to call it EDM, when it was still called techno/dance pop, but his bold sonic experiments, often mixing musical genres with cinematic flair, have taken his music far beyond the dance floor. While he had an early breakout disco hit with “Go,” and was a favorite re-mix engineer, reworking music as varied as Michael Jackson, The B-52’s and Erasure, Moby’s artistic and commercial breakthrough came with 1999’s release of Play.
While singles like “Bodyrock” and “Southside” tapped Moby’s original approach in perhaps his most accessible and catchy pop songs to date, it was the incorporation samples and loops of field recordings of folk gospel and blues singers into his breakbeat EDM that transcended the dancefloor genre and attracted alternative rock fans to Play and Moby’s subsequent live shows, which emphasized a live band sound and not just a dj pushing buttons or spinning records. 18 arrived three years later, and rode high on a great video for “We Are All Made of Stars” and included a variety of female singers including Sinead O’Connor, Angie Stone, and The Shining Light Gospel Choir.
In the intervening 15 years, Moby (born Richard Melville Hall, but reportedly nicknamed for his famous distant relative Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick) has consistently put out fresh works, often challenging himself to try new things, whether playing acoustically, abandoning sampling for a live in the studio recording process, and at times moving in a more ambient instrumental direction. 2016’s These Systems Are Failing, released under the moniker Moby & The Void Pacific Choir, tapped Moby’s punkier leaning and got a lot of attention for the video for his song “Are You Lost In the World Like Me.” Animated by Steve Cutts, the video, which addressed smartphone addiction and it’s tendency to leave us lonely while selling us on the idea of staying “connected,” won the film & video animation category at the 2017 Webby Awards.
Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, which takes its name from the epitaph given by Kurt Vonnegut to his character Billy Pilgrim in the novel Slaughterhouse-Five (which is also the title of an album by the psychedelic punk band Breakfast with Amy), is Moby’s 15th album and his description of the album’s opening track as “post-apocalypse, people are gone, and my friend July and I are time traveling aliens visiting the empty Earth,” tells you all you need to know about the music’s haunting tone and general sadness.
But who doesn’t love a sad album, especially when the soundtrack is so lush with musical depth and trip-hop influenced melancholy? Moby’s mostly spoken vocals and poetic, often existential wonderings are balanced often by a cast of warm, melodic female voices: Apollo Jane, Mindy Jones, Julie Mintz, Brie O’Bannon, and Raquel Rodriguez. “Like a Motherless Child,” echoing the blues standard, comes closest to tapping the energy and soulfulness of Play, but the tone of songs like “Welcome to Hard Times,” “The Sorrow Tree” and the closing “A Dark Cloud Is Coming” has little energy for the dance floor. But this ambient leaning soundtrack, sweetened by the feminine voices, is a fitting response to the world we inhabit, a quieter respite against the storms of political chaos that assaults our consciousness daily. Moby may not be lifting our spirits, or calling us back onto the dance floor, but rather provides a sonic companion for these ominous times.
Brian Q. Newcomb
For more of Brian Q. Newcomb’s music reviews, check out The Fire Note
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- All Visible Objects (Moby) – music review
- Soul of a Woman by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – music review
- If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples – music review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television