Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve been digging into post-Zeitgeist Moby, and, you know, I’m digging it. Say what you will about the guy, I know he annoys people because he’s the granddaddy of every insufferable Brooklyn hipster, yeah, and you can say that what he makes music for wimpy kids or whatever. That’s what you get when a resoundingly uncool person accidentally becomes ‘cool’ for a minute. I just really want to listen to some chill music right now, and Moby is my chill music man. Don’t underestimate a nice atmosphere, man.
The more I listen to Moby’s more recent work, the more I enjoy it, and the more I think that he’s only gotten better since his early 2000’s heyday. In fact 2009’s Wait for Me has grown to be a favorite record. I initially thought that its more ambient and less singles-focused sound was a step in a dull direction, but I increasingly warmed to it. Now I know that I just wasn’t ready. I have more appreciation for atmospheric compositions than I did in 2009, and 2009, if I remember it correctly, wasn’t really ready for musical moonscapes either. (It was a big year for aggressive bass drops.) I love this particular moonscape; it’s surreal and vaguely reminds me of the music in Fantastic Planet, though far less weird. To underscore its cinematic quality there’s a video made by David Lynch; it’s surreal and vaguely reminds me of the animation of Persepolis.
If you were to predict which rock superstar would make a concept album inspired by the writings of Michel Houellebecq, Iggy Pop would probably not even cross your mind. You also probably were not expecting Iggy Pop to make a jazz-inflected record on which he sings in French. But yet he did just that, and yes, it was one of his weirder moments. You may think that old Iggy has gone soft and pretentious in his sunset years, but his explanation was characteristic; he was “sick of listening to idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music”. With his perennial shirtlessness and his habit of rolling around in broken glass, Pop’s hardcore punk credentials are unassailable, but even he has to look askance at the influence he has wrought. For every acolyte who grew up to be David Bowie, there were thousands who grew up to be mindless jerks who think that feedback and nudity are all that it takes to be edgy. But being naked, loud and stupid does not make you an edgy rebel, it just makes you naked, loud and stupid. And Iggy Pop, for his part, was the son of an English teacher and developed his intellectual side from there. Being the godfather of one of the less intellectually rigorous musical genres, he may have kept his interest in French literature to himself, but rest assured he knows more about French literature than most of you numskulls.
More of an interlude. An interlude and an outro. In St. Vincent’s world nothing is ever just filler or a toss-off. If it’s on there, it’s been thought about deeply and should be parsed deeply. You can’t say that the album Actor has a grand concept, but it was loosely inspired by Annie Clark’s idea of writing her own music for her favorite movies. So the loose idea is something about identity and the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives. Ironically, this was a few years before Clark’s own identity came to include being a tabloid celebrity, so she was writing from the point of view of a normal person. She needs to now make a concept album about how we act out our lives and write out our stories in an age where our inner lives have become our public lives. In the meantime, an interlude.
Okay, you know I’m a sucker for things that look and sound retro. Call it false nostalgia for things I’m not old enough to remember. Of course I’m going to pick a song that sounds just like something from the sixties. And the Arctic Monkeys exist to capitalize on that. They’re engineered to appeal to people who long for the days when five-piece rock bands with guitars roamed the streets. That’s not an insult. They’re not taking advantage of our collective nostalgia, they’re sharing it. They’re not old enough to remember that shit either. Sometimes sincere enthusiasm for things that came before is a lot more appealing than a calculated attempt to fiddle with the future. That’s how the entire British Invasion came about, just for example.
I’ve long been saying that pop music needs more choirs. Gospel choirs, children’s choirs, Gregorian monk choirs, you name it. There’s just something magical about two dozen people’s voices all coming together into one. There’s no substitute for it. If you need more humanity on your record, hire a choir. So, if you’re compiling a playlist of well-deployed choirs in pop, here’s a candidate by Moby, whose bread-and-vegan-butter-substitute is adding nuggets of vintage humanity to futuristic electronic soundscapes.
It seems like everybody kind of stopped paying attention to Moby after he hit peak saturation with 18 in 2002. Maybe it’s because he allowed to many of his songs to be licensed for too many commercials. Maybe we got tired of hearing about his self-righteous-white-guy vegan lifestyle. Maybe his particular brand of dreamy electronic soundscapes became passe as the console-music scene embraced the convulsive sounds of dubstep and other, more aggressive forms of EDM. Whatever it was, Moby enjoyed his allotted however-many-minutes as a major pop culture figure, and then went back to noodling on his console in relative obscurity. Which is to say, he’s been consistently making music in much the same vein, and it’s been consistently high-quality and rewarding, if not exactly ‘trending’. He’s still delivering those dreamy soundscapes, for those of us who still want them – and with increasing finesse. None of his post-18 albums have been mainstream phenomenons, but they’ve been beautiful and affecting. Moby was never well suited for major stardom, not in personality, lifestyle, looks or musical aesthetic. He’s just a dweeb who wants to compose beautiful melodies, who happened to hit it big through some alchemy of zeitgeist and luck.