Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Best New Music: Moby's "Innocents"


When I first put on an album, I can only hope to have the type of reaction I had within the first 80 seconds of Moby's Innocents. That visceral reaction to the sonic landscape I'm wading through – a gut feeling, an overwhelming wave of emotion as the melody progresses and an urge to share the feeling right away – is what I consider to be the homerun of first listens.

Innocents, electronic mastermind Richard Melville Hall's 11th album and the most collaborative release to date, is nothing less than consistently intriguing. The first bundle of Innocents’ tracks are versatile, yet stunning; song-after-song solidifying the emotional accessibility felt after the first minute. "Everything That Rises," the instrumental that begins with the dusty pangs of a sitar before blossoming into one of the artist’s coined synth swells, melodically immobilizes you outright in the way that some of the Play’s wordless balladry did in 1999. Compared to uninviting contemporary electronic, Innocents' expansive instrumentation and gorgeous vocal cameos are universally emotional without sacrificing any of Moby’s experimentation or quirks.

After the beauty of the first track fades, Moby invites his friends to play. Raspy Canadian Al Spx (Cold Specks) is haunting and soulful on the second song and first single, “A Case for Shame,” in which she softly rumbles over fluttering piano and a shadowy downtown beat (she shows up similarly down the line on “Tell Me”). Possibly my favourite track is the Damien Jurado-led “Almost Home” - a heartening blend of his tenor and strings that’s one of his more unequivocally pretty and less challenging tracks. The astounding piano-guided ballad “Going Wrong” momentarily rests the album on a downtempo voiceless note with dramatic keys and strings that sound right out of a film score.

Swinging back up into buoyancy, Moby exchanges verses with Flaming Lips ringleader Wayne Coyne on the celebratory, choir and clap-orchestrated “The Perfect Life” – a track that’s just as much soulful as it is deliciously poppy. Moby adds female pop vocalist Skylar Grey to achily sing against a “Honey”-reminiscent blues singer sample on “The Last Day,” resembling the angsty electro-rock pioneered in Nina Persson or Shirley Manson’s mid-90s efforts. “A Long Time” is one of the album’s most typically Moby tracks – balancing eccentric samples and Kavinsky-style synth thumps, while never losing an ounce of cohesiveness. Innocents winds down appropriately once Mark Lanegan’s vibrato baritone drifts in and around the dazzling, revelatory “The Lonely Night,” ending on a dimmer note than the album started – something I expected after the stellar intro.

Despite straying from envelope-pushing musical territory, this album is anything but boring or unfocused; every song remains melodically and lyrically in reach, without layering pop elements out of desperation to find new listeners. It satisfies those of us who’ve stayed with him, and it engages those who can’t connect to modern oddball electronica. Throughout the robust Innocents collection, and all of its guests, I never once lose sight of Moby.

The album, out on Arts & Crafts on October 1, can be streamed on NPR.








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