Archive for the ‘Moby’ Category


SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-One Song, Two Days, Three Versions (Project Song: May 4, 2010).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fifth and (presumably) final one they did was about six months after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Moby.

Moby generally works alone in his New York apartment, but for Project Song, we asked him to bring along a collaborator. He picked Kelli Scarr, a Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter with a breathtaking voice. They arrived at NPR, a bit nervous and eager.

It takes weeks, even years, to write a song. NPR Music’s Project Song challenges musicians to do it in just two days. And every Project Song participant has worked right up to the last-minute — that is, until Moby.

He and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished their song in a little more than a single day. In fact, they had so much time left over, they recorded a second version of the song. And after that, they gave a small concert for the staff at NPR.

I kicked off the songwriting process by showing them a series of photographs and words. The surreal images came from New York artist Phil Toledano; you can see more of his work at NPR’s Picture Show blog. Moby and Scarr are both drawn to an image of a man in the woods wearing a trenchcoat. [Moby: “A disconcerting loneliness that I really like”].  There’s a brown briefcase on the earthen floor beside him, and his head looks like a glowing storm cloud.

Next, I gave them a series of words to choose from. Moby picked the word “flight.” Scarr chose “Sunday,” which Moby calls “the most depressing day of the week.”

Not too long after, Moby puts the card with the word “Sunday” printed on it, along with the photograph, on a nearby chair. He picks up a bass guitar and immediately starts playing a riff in the key of E. Turns out, this hastily played bass line would become the bedrock for their new song.

Just six hours later, the first of three versions of “Gone to Sleep” was recorded.

When he arrives he says he thought about cheating with chords ahead of time, but he likes the idea of jumping headlong into a project.  And as the blurb says, within minutes he’s got a bass line, some synths and drums.  Then a guitar line and more keyboard sounds.

Then they work on lyrics.  Moby says, “My favorite type of unsettling art is art that isn’t immediately unsettling.”  he cites the classic example of “Mack the Knife.”  You first hear it and it’s happy and then you listen to the lyrics and its terrifying.

The end of the video clip plays the whole song, guitar and piano and atmospheric.  Then over the closing credits they play a somewhat less atmospheric, gentler version of the song.  And then there’s the Tiny Desk which is altogether different.

It’s like Moby broke Project Song by making it seem too easy.

[READ: July 27, 2017] “Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224)”

I’ve read a few things by Vladez Quade, but this one is quite different from anything else.  It’s actually quite different form anything else I’ve read, period.  The closest author this reminded me of would be Brendan Connell, who likes to thoroughly investigate a historical character (real or imagined).

But this story is based on an actual; person:

St. Christina the Astonishing has been recognized as a saint since the 12th century. She was placed in the calendar of the saints by at least two bishops of the Catholic Church in two different centuries (17th & 19th) that also recognized her life in a religious order and preservation of her relics.

The story tells of her life from the point of view of her older sister and is written in a rather formal, almost canonical, style with section headings in an old style: “How She was Led Forth from the Body and How She Lived Again.”

The narrator, Mara, tells us that Christina lay dead in her coffin, a grave awaiting her.  Mara is sad, she loved Christina, “I see this now.  She was difficult, unknowable but I loved her.”

But at the same time she says that perhaps if they had hastened, outrun the melody.  If we’d only got those last words out, “He might have spared us our miracle.”

For indeed, the dead Christina not only rose bodily from her coffin, she levitated to the rafters. The narrator and her sister Gertrude clutched each other in fear. (more…)

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mercurySOUNDTRACK: MOBY & KELLI SCARR-Tiny Desk Concert #58 (May 4, 2010).

moby This is the first of a few Tiny Desk Concerts that break with the format we’ve come to know.

For unclear reasons, there is a video for only one song from this show.  Although there is a full audio feed in which you can hear all of the songs that Moby and Kelli play.  This video is also filmed at night, which is quite different from their usual mid-morning showcase.  It is very dark outside and in the studio, which is also unusual.

The song that they play is “Gone to Sleep,” a song they created for Project Song.  The premise behind Project Song is to write, record and complete a song in 48 hours.  As inspiration, they used the word Sunday and a picture of a man in the woods with clouds for a head (Moby describes him as a pedophile from another dimension).

It’s quite a good song with a really catchy, very Moby chorus.  And the dark video is interesting to watch.

There’s audio where you can learn a bit more about Project Song and how they created their song.  But there’s also audio from the rest of their set, which features covers and Moby originals all done on acoustic guitar.

They play a fun, surprisingly light version of “Ring of Fire” (with audience participation on “trumpet solo”).  Then the do Moby’s “Pale Horses” which is quite nice in this stripped down version.  Their next cover is “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.”  They do an interesting take–it’s almost upbeat and folky, which is unusual.  He switches from “and the colored girls say” to “and everybody here says.”  He also tells a funny story about campaigning for John Kerry and playing that song and seeing Kerry’s wife act horrified and maybe a little turned on by the lyrics.

The final song is CSN&Y’s “Helpless.”  It’s a pretty, very different version from the original.  It’s a good set, especially for those who think of Moby as a more dancey artist.

[READ: June 21, 2015] Mercury

I really enjoyed this book by Hope Larson, one of my consistently favorite graphic novelists.

And this book may be one of her best.  The book drifts back and forth between two timelines in Nova Scotia.  The older timeline is 1859.  We meet the Fraser family living in a house on French hill.  They have just had a visitor, Asa Curry and he seems taken with their daughter Josey.

The modern timeline is set 150 years in the future.  The Fraser family until recently still lived on the property at French Hill.  A few years ago it burnt down and the survivors had to move.

The 1859 story has a black border while the contemporary story has a white one, it a subtle but very cool way of distinguishing the timelines. (more…)

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july21SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS 2014-With a Little Help from My Fwends (2014).

fwendsAnd speaking of covers.

Probably the least anticipated album of 2014 was the Flaming Lips’ cover of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Although the biggest surprise (mostly in a bad way, it seemed) was Wayne Coyne’s embrace (metaphorical, we hope) of Miley Cyrus.  The fact that Cyrus appears on this record at all totally overshadowed the fact that so many other people and bands appeared here as well.  I literally had no idea at the names that contributed to this electronic psychedelic re-imagining of a very psychedelic album.

The biggest overall difference between the two is that the Beatles’ psychedelia was conveyed through organic instruments–strings, horns, sitar, piano–while The Fwends version is almost entirely electronic.  This of course means that the album sounds very different from the original.  But what I think makes the album a success overall is that the various artists involved all bring a slightly different vision to the proceedings.  This makes it less of a Flaming Lips record and more of a Friends of Lips-style psychedelia collection.  I’m not even sure why it’s a Flaming Lips record, except that they are credited with playing on a bunch of songs (and presumably produced it–which explains some of the excess noise on the record).

Obviously, they are not trying to improve on the original.  And obviously, die-hard Beatles fans are appalled at this travesty.  But anyone who knows the Beatles knows that they were all about experimenting themselves.  Rather than getting mad about this, perhaps listeners should see that  they are having fun with the originals–sometimes staying faithful, sometimes exploring other ways to do songs, and sometimes just throwing everything out the window for a chance to jam.  And some versions you may even like.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” featuring My Morning Jacket, Fever the Ghost & J Mascis
The song starts out with a goofy falsetto rendition of the song which makes it seem like the whole album is going to be a big joke (I assume this is Fever the Ghost whom I don’t know).  But I loved the way the “record” slows down to let MMJ take over with a great noisy, respectful chorus.  The song could certainly use more MMJ.  When “Billy Shears” is introduced, it turns out be J Masics playing a totally song-inappropriate wailing guitar solo.
“With a Little Help from My Friends” featuring The Flaming Lips, Black Pus & Autumn Defense
I love that Wayne sings this verse (about being out of tune) with an auto tune on his voice.  He sings it really quite lovely.  I even enjoy that the response verses are done in a kind of out of tune crazy way.  But the problem is that they are too much–it turns the song into too much of a joke (which is to be expected form a band called Black Pus, I suppose).  It’s a shame because the idea could work really well if it didn’t sound like someone crashing a party.  Autumn Defense is a side project from the bassist for Wilco, and I assume he does the lovely harmony vocals.
“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” featuring The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & Moby
Miley so overshadows everyone on this song that I didn’t even realize Moby was on it.  Miley sounds really quite good in this version–not all that dissimilar to John’s falsetto voice on the original.  The removal of the big drum before the chorus is distressing, although I do like the replacement, the echoed “gone” part.  I like that they are having fun with the song (the repeat of “Marshmallow Pie” is cute) I just wish the chorus wasn’t mixed so loud that it is so distorted.  I hate that about recent Lips releases, why do they do it?
“Getting Better” featuring Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish & Morgan Delt
Dr Dog sounds great in this version, although I find Inglish’s recitation (in which he can’t seem to hit any notes on the few times when he  “sings” to be rather unsettling).  I don’t know Morgan Delt, but I find his trippy vocals to work quite well.
“Fixing a Hole” featuring Electric Würms
Electric Würms are the side project of Flaming Lip Steven Drozd.  This is claustrophobic but quite appropriate for the song (I wish it were a little cleaner though).
“She’s Leaving Home” featuring Phantogram, Julianna Barwick & Spaceface
This is a great, delicate version of this with Phantogram and Barwick sharing lead vocals duties.  It’s quite lovely.
“Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” featuring The Flaming Lips, Maynard James Keenan, Puscifer & Sunbears!
Maynard does a great job reciting the song.  The song is not necessarily more trippy than the original (which is pretty trippy, it’s just a lot more electronic-sounding.  It’s a weird but cool rendition of the song.
“Within You Without You” featuring The Flaming Lips, Birdflower & Morgan Delt
I don’t Birdflower, but she does a great job in a higher register with the Indian melody (it’s all electronic and not traditional Indian instrumentation but it sounds cool).  Delt sings alternate leads and is a good counterpoint.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” featuring The Flaming Lips, Def Rain & Pitchwafuzz
I don’t know Def Rain or Pitchwafuzz, but I think Def Rain is doing the voice.  The robotic voice that sings this song is kind of fun–a little too much at times, but overall fun.
“Lovely Rita” featuring Tegan and Sara & Stardeath and White Dwarfs
Tegan and Sara have fun with this song while the noise from Stardeath is much darker than the original.
“Good Morning Good Morning” featuring Zorch, Grace Potter & Treasure Mammal
This song is a little wild (although so is the original).  I don’t know any of the artists involved in it.
“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” featuring Foxygen & Ben Goldwasser
Foxygen takes this one minute reprise and turns it into a five minute jam session. It has nothing at all to do with the original and it is a weird way to delay the final song.  I don’t know what Goldwasser contributes.  If you can get past the fact that it sound nothing like the original, it’s an interesting noisy jam.
“A Day in the Life” featuring The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus & New Fumes
Wayne and Miley duet on this, with again, Wayne taking the vocals seriously.  Wayne does the “John” verses.  The switch to Miley’s take on the “Paul” verses is a pretty big shock the way it sounds so stark and electronic.  There’s a few too many echoes on her part, but again, Miley does pretty well with a detached reading.  And because they are difficult, the end just gets cut off before the final famous crescendo.

So is this a great record that people will listen to a lot? Nope.  Is it an interesting twist on a famous record?  Sure.  Is it enjoyable?  For the most part.  As long a you don’t think of it is a definitive re-make, and accept it as a way to raise money for a charity.

[READ: January 28, 2015] “Wagner in the Desert”

This story reminded me in spirit of both Less than Zero and Generation X, but perhaps for Generation Y.

It’s about a bunch of friends getting ready to ring in the New Year in Palm Springs with a lot of drugs.

The narrator and friends were vacationing some friends from whom he had drifted.  Marta and Eli were trying to have a baby and were looking to do one more sort of wild night before it all became to real: “The Baby Bucket List they were calling it.”  So they all headed to Palm Springs, a group of “modern hustlers: filmmakers, ad writers (screen, Web, magazine), who periodically worked as narrative consultants on ad campaigns, sustainability experts, P.R. lifers, designers, or design consultants, social entrepreneurs and that strange species of human beings who has invented an app.”

Unlike the coke heads of the 80s, though: “We thought we were not bad people.  Not the best, a bit spoiled, maybe, but pleasant, inconstant, decent.”

The group were all paired off except for the narrator and Lily, who was pretty and neurotic, an executive in training.  And he soon filled the role of her gofer because “she needed a lot of things.” He had hoped to have sex with her–his only goal for the vacation.  But as of day three, they had only made out a bit. (more…)

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The Rheostatics are from Etobicoke Canada.  Their second album was called Melville (named after a town in Saskatchewan, but it has a whale on the cover so…).  Their third album (this one) is called Whale Music (inspired by the novel by Paul Quarrington).  When they made a film of Whale Music, the Rheostatics were asked to make the soundtrack for it, which they released as Whale Music.  So, the band have 2 albums called Whale Music and one called Melville.  Perfect soundtrack to Moby-Dick.

The album is chock full of all kinds of music: country tracks, folky tracks, metal tracks, and hooks galore.  And it’s all wrapped up in the oddity that is the Rheostatics.  This album features guest spots by the Barenaked Ladies and Neil Peart as well as horns, strings, spoken word parts, and “power tools”.

“Self Serve Gas Station” is a great opening.  It begins with swirling guitars and a beautiful solo (Rheostatics guitar lines sound so elemental as to seem like they’ve always been around).  But just as the vocals begin, the song becomes a sort of country track: a folkie song about adolescnece.  But it returns to a good rocking (and falsetto fueled) rock track.

“California Dreamline” is a wonderfully weird track, with more gorgeous guitar melodies.  It also has a disjointed section with squealing guitars.   While “Rain, Rain, Rain” opens with a lengthy percussion section (played by Neil Peart of Rush) with a weird time signature.  It’s a fun singalong.  “Queer” meanwhile has some great chugga guitars that turn into a rocking tale of an ostracized brother (and features the great line: “But I wish you were there to see it/When I scored a hat-trick on the team/That called you a fucking queer.”

“King of the Past” is another great track, with a wondrous string sound near the end.  It’s a gorgeous song with (again) different sections conveying shanties and jigs (and you can dance to it).  Like Moby from last week, Rheostatics, also bust out a fast metal track, but this one works well: “RDA (Rock Death America)” has a major hook and name checks everyone from The Beatles to The Replacements.

“Legal Age Life at Variety Store” is a great folky singalong (and features the piercing harmonies of Martin Tielli).  “What’s Going On Around Here?” is the most traditional song of the bunch, a poppy little ditty which avoids complacency with a rocking coda.

“Shaved Head” is a moody piece, wonderful for its roller coaster sensibilities, which is followed by the beautiful Tim Vesely sung ballad “Palomar.”  This track is followed by the humorous (but serious) shouted-word piece “Guns” which also features Neil Peart.

“Sickening Song” is an accordion based shanty song.  Followed by another pretty, poppy-sounding track, “Soul Glue.”  Drummer Dave Clark sings “Beerbash,” an upbeat song.  And tye final track is the epic, “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.”  It opens with a beautiful acoustic intro and a wonderfully catchy wheedling guitar solo.  It ends delightfully: “Where the dope fiends laugh And say it’s too soon, They all go home and listen to
The Dark Side of the Moon.”

I had been listening to the band live a lot recently, and they play these songs a lot.  So it was quite a treat to go back and hear the original with all its full instrumentation.

[READ: Week of June 14, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 62-86]

I never thought I’d ever say this, but I really enjoyed Moby-Dick this week.  So far, these twentysome chapters have been my favorite (even the gruesome whale sections), there weren’t any chapters that I thought really dragged.  So, good for me!

This week’s read begins with Ishmael stating that harpooners should not have to paddle and then be expected to harpoon as well.  They should save their strength for that last, all important act.  And that seems logical to me, although one also expects that the harpooners would feel kind of bad while everyone else is paddling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-Everything is Wrong (1995).

I suppose that everyone knows that Moby (the musician) is Herman Melville’s great- great- great- grandnephew.  And that’s why he has the middle name Melville and had the nickname Moby.

Moby started out as a techno guy. He even made the Guinness Book for the fastest bpm ever recorded (since then, many have surpassed that) with the song “Thousand.”  It’s an interesting song, although more for its novelty than anything else.  He also had a cool hit called “Go” that sampled music from Twin Peaks.  And in 1999 he took over the world with his album Play, which featured some 18 songs that were all licensed for commercial use (many of which were ubiquitous that summer).

But this disc, Everything is Wrong, came out before Play, and it was considered a high water mark for dance music (before the next high water marks of Fatboy Slim and LCD Soundsystem came out, of course).

So this disc was hailed as the big breakthrough for Moby.  And it has something for everyone.  It opens with a pretty piano piece ala Philip Glass which is, as its name implies, a “Hymn.”  From there we get a heavy techno beat and “Feeling So Real” kicks off.  Gospel-like vocals soar above the dancing (this foreshadows Play quite a bit).  It sounds very 1994 to me, although I don’t think it sounds dated, necessarily.  And then comes his stab at punk.  “All That I Need is to be Loved” is a fast blast of aggro music.   The problem is that Moby doesn’t do punk very well.  His guitars are too trebly, his vocals aren’t very strong and despite the beautiful melodies he creates, he doesn’t write very catchy hooks.

“Every Time You Touch Me” returns to the style of “Feeling So Real” and is another stellar dance track.  While “Bring Back My Happiness” runs even faster.

“What Love” is another screaming punk track.  This one is closer to Ministry.  It’s quite a slap in the face after the rest of the disc.

“First Cool Hive” slows things down with a groovy almost ambient track.  And “Into the Blue” is a moody song that sounds like it could also have been taken from Twin Peaks.

“Anthem” returns to the fast beats with ecstatic moans sprinkled over the faster and faster beat.

The album ends with two tracks, “God Moving Over the Face of the World” which is a beautiful instrumental (again ala Philip Glass or more likely Michael Nyman) that weaves in and around itself for 7 minutes.   (It, too, hints of Twin Peaks).  And, “When It’s Cold I’d Like to Die,” while not exactly uplifting is coldly beautiful (kind of like a long lost Eurhythmics track)..

The disc is such a mishmash of styles, that it’s hard to really know what to classify it as.  Some of it works wonders.  Other tracks (notably the punk experiments) are less successful (even though I did enjoy them then, I think they just didn’t age well…or maybe I didn’t age well).  Of course, over the course of his career, Moby has attempted all of these genres in more detail, so this was almost like a sampler of what he would be doing later.

Sixteen years later it holds up quite well (although I still think Play is better).

[READ: Week of June 7, 2010] Moby-Dick [Chapters 42-61]

The reading this week opens with a chapter about whiteness.  And how somehow Moby-Dick is even more fearsome for being white.  As the chapter opens whiteness (even in skin color) is lauded.  But by the end, he cites it as being particularly creepy: white whales, polar bears, albinos.  (I think that this was my very least favorite chapter so far–I was uncomfortable reading it and I didn’t get a lot of humor from it either).

Some more down time passes, with Ishmael describing how Ahab is able to plot a course to find Moby-Dick.  It’s not just looking for a needle in an ocean–there are pathways that whales follow, for instance.  This is followed by a chapter that allows Ishmael to swear, absolutely swear! that whalers can recognize the same whale even years later if you tried to kill it but failed (and that he himself remembers one whale that got away from a mole under its eye). (more…)

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