Monday, 7 October 2013

Moby - Innocents


You can bet both your money and your limbs on Moby channelling somewhere else besides the electronic spectrum that rewarded him early followers, by the time of a new release. Not that this is necessarily a bad or unwelcome thing; artists treading new ground and expanding their horizons is something most neutrals welcome (even if the same early, dedicated followers might start sweating at the very mention of it). For Moby however, in the last five or seven years - or four albums if measuring in studio recordings - his placement it seems has had its feet firmly content on what many outsiders would class as a kind of classicist, orchestral attempt at refining his previous interest in such fields as gospel and jazz music, as was the case on the daring-but-monumentus Play and its 2002 follow-up, 18. In recent times however, the MIDI-controlled, key-precise composite of strings, piano and the like have brought as much success in complementing Moby's sound, as they've too overshadowed it. Where Last Night delivered unto us arguably one of Moby's more considered approaches to balancing the palette of electronics, orchestration and guest vocals, Wait For Me & Destroyed after it found Moby at logger-heads with himself over which part of the musical trinity was taking precedence. Innocents from face value, appears to present vocals as the overriding factor, based purely on the flock of guests that accompany Moby's eleventh studio album. But given guest vocal's reputation as being hit-and-miss in the more commercial hemisphere of music, is this a sign of Moby recapturing the balance lost in previous attempts, or an even graver sign of his slipping further down from the upper echelon that was his pre-Millennium work? 

It should come as no surprise that proceedings start off like a repetitional trope of costal strings on Everything That Rises. Admittedly, there is a slight spark of interest initiated by the staccato-like synth pads that dwindle and loop about the piece to begin with. Like previous album openers, Moby's slowly-unveiling approach demands a degree of closer inspection and means to sit up and take note. And while I'm pleasantly surprised that such a minimal development is deserving of its initially-baffling four minute length, my criticism is not that the piece goes too far with its string orchestration, rather it doesn't go far enough - instead seemingly halting its increase in dynamics and tension between the lone synth pads. A Case For Shame takes its referencing of previous Moby listens a lot earlier by contrast - the delicate piano and conflicting rise of strings having an Everything Is Wrong-esque feel. But even the glimmer of nostalgia doesn't console what is a fairly safe and saturated use of instrumentation and vocals to invoke a sense of emotion that, unfortunately, is lost in Moby's over-indulgence in string emphasis. 

Fortunately, Moby at times offers some lenience on letting components outside his circle of favourites, pave the way. The more human elements on the track Almost Home allow for some harmonious delivery to break through such enormities of swollen violin assembles and walls of strings Moby - despite this lenience - remains in refusal to let go of. But despite this, there's a great benefit in hearing Damien Jurado peeling through the difficult clog of orchestration to ensure his lyrics stick to the listener at the very most tonally even if the context and intent are a miss, 'So we climb, so we're all told the line/I dream it too, the stars were mine'. When Moby himself takes to then mix as lead single The Perfect Life delivers (in what is the most outspoken and collective of the album's dozen tracks), while singularly his vocals appear tentative and skittish, the interplay with backing vocals and the music's overwhelming gospel-come-celebratory outpour, works to perfection. The shift from piano, subtle guitar strums and drumbeats to Moby's tonally nervy narrative and resulting choir ascent and glistening synths; this time, the familiarity of past energy and melody is fascinating.

There's certainly a nostalgic feel running through the record; a compulsive reminding one's self of past music whereby Moby's stepping-out (and away from the foundry of conventional electronic dance music) to more organic and soulful trudges of music brought with it both success and a feeling of understanding. The Last Day which quickly follows invokes the richest form of memory as far as Moby's history on sampling gospel vocals and enveloping instrumentation is concerned. Fortunately, the trip isn't entirely flocked some overruling lack of content in present terms. While Moby does continue (frustratingly) to refrain from expanding his palette from out what is a fairly downtempo pleasantry of long notation, Skylar Grey manages to offer her soothing texture of vocals to a piece that admittedly feels once more like it's one step away from becoming another unwanted display of orchestrated meaningless.  

But for those vigilant on favouring Moby's former, cleaner distinction between beats and the flow of a song, A Long Wait stands on its own two floor-tapping feet even with Moby’s continuing dilution of atmosphere through vocal sampling and warm violin strings. Nevertheless the more welcoming space for the beats - that are in part punchy and part askew in texture - to carry through to the listener, at the very least conjure an interesting mix of tone between the synthetics of electronics and the organic timbre of notation. Unfortunately this as close as we get to experiencing music from a relational standpoint; the album from hereon plummeting in both emotive and convictive merit. Where Saints feels more a missed opportunity to expand on the previous track’s delightful interchange of beats and harmonics - the track rolling on in an juvinated yet foreign obscuring of over-achieving strings - The Lonely Night is proof of Moby’s over-reliance on guest contribution to invoke a superficial inquiry of emotion - Mark Lanegan's gravelly, baritone unfortunately working against Moby's sincere, gesture of violins. Here, the delivery is not only completely unsuited to the role - dawdling unexcitedbly about Moby’s stripped-back-but-poor illusion of ambience - the song's weak suggestion of calmness mixed with tension, holds very little to hold my interest. 

It’s the lack of any real transgressive or sonic tie that lands Moby in a vacuum of misjudgement. While attempts at something less energised and uplifting have worked to interesting effect on albums like Ambient or Wait For Me (if perhaps both albums were lacking content-wise) in the past, the benefit on those records was that Moby could convince us his compositions stood like interpesonal self-reflections on some transportive line of thought. Thus as final track The Dogs exemplifies, that line of thought is all over the place; muddled and constantly in confrontation with itself to the point where desperation overrides the [desired] need for clarity. In the end, Moby finds himself falling back on the same old signature attire of prying and poking for some enforced weight of emotion that, here most of all, lacks both development and any real investigation in production. Ultimately, the minor acoustic strumming that only barely registers with me, and the whimpering monologue of synths - that, more frustratingly, initially gave me hope for an opportunity rising to explore such peculiar sounds’ nimbler delivery of narration - are drowned out by the omnipotence on string instruments. Any attempt to develop a connection with the listener ends up non-existent, and more worryingly delivers itself as much more artificial and disconnected emotively, than the synthesizers used previously. 

Perhaps it was inevitable that the over-indulgence (for what is a guaranteed come-to when in need for rich musical character) in strings, would one day lead to Moby’s burn-out. Even so, the problems plaguing Innocents go beyond the glaring dependency on narrow-margined choices of sound. Where Moby managed to build for himself and his listener a scene with which to explore on previous albums - the sensitive formality and tension of Hotel and the swanky New York delicacies of Last Night stand as strong candidates in that department - Innocents possesses neither the foundation nor the decoration to identify even a fragment of context. Caught in flux with a conflicting narration and linear production that long-time followers will be sick of retracing, even with the few spots of mergence Moby has at last, it seems, lost the ability to convince us relation and harmony is something he’s striving to keep a hold on. No one can force him from out his shell of bias. But - and this may come as a surprise to Moby - there's nothing stopping us from putting the intrigue of his future work to bed, and simply laundering Innocents, and sadly whatever comes next, straight into the archives. File under T: Tried, Tested, Tiresome.
~Jordan
 

5.2

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