Search This Blog

Monday, August 10, 2015

Moby -- Play

 photo 220px-Moby_play_zps3hs2hg4s.jpg

Early June, 1999
I am driving the field road between Lakeland's Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on HWY 416 and the old Pourciau's Pharmacy on the Chenal. I am listening to KLSU, and the DJ is raving about the new Moby record, Play. "It's magnificent!" he says before playing a song called "Porcelain." The song features ethereal keyboard textures, a piano that sounds like the song title, a distant, old-sounding sample of an old man singing the blues, and Moby himself, singing in a slightly monotone, yet expressively sad voice. I like the song well enough, but at this time in my life, the summer before my Senior year of high school, I am absolutely inundated with new sounds, absorbing music like sand does water. I do not realize that this is the best year of my life, though I am certainly enjoying myself.

February 13, 2000
This night turns out to contain one of the most spiritual moments of my life. I have to work my job at Wal-Mart until nine, therefore missing that night's episode of The X-Files. The X-Files is my favorite show, and I have never missed an episode, so I have set my VCR to record it; after seven seasons, this episode is purported to finally contain the resolution to the mystery of what happened to Agent Mulder's sister. I get home and turn on my VCR, rewind the tape. I programmed the VCR to begin recording at 7:45, and I am horrified that when I press play, I see static instead of moving picture. I fast forward, and at around 7:58, the picture finally resolves itself, but horror of horrors, the broadcast features no sound. My mind races, and I remember my 20-inch tube television is equipped with closed-captioning for the hearing impaired. I turn on the CC and read the episode's dialogue in silence. This strange sensory-deprivation is at once deeply disappointing and deeply affecting. In the end, it turns out that Mulder's sister was spared a horrible fate many years ago by the heavens, and she lives as starlight with the souls of other spared children in endless, blissful childhood. The climactic scene features Mulder reuniting with his sister's soul in a starlit field, and suddenly, as she runs to him, my television speakers come to life, and the most beautiful song I have ever heard slowly rolls across the incomprehensible distance between heaven and my ears.

The song is "My Weakness," by Moby, from his album Play. I am greatly satisfied by this resolution to The X-Files long running abduction mystery, and I immediately want to purchase Moby's Play.

February 19, 2000
I purchase Play from Blockbuster Music the day before, on the way to a Church Youth Group trip. I don't like my church, I seriously doubt the existence of God, and the event we attend ends up putting me to sleep. During an altar call, I stay at my seat and have my own, violent conversation with God. In agony, I demand a sign of his existence from the deepest pit in my heart, and to my supreme amusement, the giant movie screen the event has been using to guilt teenagers into taking expensive, pocket-lining mission trips, suddenly bursts into flames. It is at this moment that I realize that the intense, difficult, personal relationship I have with God, which runs deeply beneath and at odds with my fake church's "everything is roses because if you give us all your money you'll be rich and happy" relationship with God, is actual the real one of the two. On the drive home, after having a far different experience than my temporarily fired-up peers (who, never forming that personal, non-church-dependent relationship with a higher power, are now mostly atheists), I play Play on my mom's mini-van's compact disc player. Play doesn't sound like "My Weakness" overall, and my mom is weirded out by it, but when I get home, I lie in my bed with the lights off, listen to the album again, and have yet another intense moment in what is turning out to be a uniquely powerful string of spiritual experiences.

Spring of 2000 
I unpack and dissect Play over the rest of the next few months, as I prepare for my high school graduation. In my public life, I apologize to a few people at my high school for previously acting like a dick to them, as my heart is now feeling the healing fires of conviction, as opposed to the previous church-enforced guilt that wasn't getting me anywhere. Speaking of church, several of my peers give testimonies about the youth trip in bouts of short-lived fire (their arms burned with a torch, while a white-hot, slow burning flame has been ignited deep within my soul), but I refuse, my personal experience my own business, another act of open defiance that will continue until I am happily and forever out the door. Meanwhile, Play amazes me. I (and well...everybody) have never before heard anything like it. Moby combined his usual genre, house music, with old field recordings of spirituals and blues songs, along with his own singing, and atmospheric, ambient instrumentals. While Moby has put out other fine works, Play is that lightning in the bottle that should shatter the glass and kill everyone, yet someone manages to be contained, perfect, brilliant, beautiful,

July, 2015 
Play still amazes me. I can't understand how Moby took these simple old recordings, added a little piano, keyboard, some drums and bass and the rare guitar, and achieved such a magical, timeless final product. Added to that, Play's structure is serendipitous. Moby purposely front-loads the album with the songs more heavily featuring gospel-samples, as well as with the rockier "Southside," the dancey-oddball "Bodyrock," and the "I'm on every drug and I'm banging my head against the wall" techno-furor of "Machete," scattering in only a few of the prettier, more laid back tracks. He then unloads a wave of meditative emotion on the final seven songs, including the previously mentioned closer, "My Weakness." I wish words could express how transformative an experience this album was 15 years ago, but I firmly believe one could listen to it for the first time today and have the same type of encounter.

1999 V2 Records
1. Honey 3:27
2. Find My Baby 3:58
3. Porcelain 4:01
4. Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? 4:23
5. South Side 3:48
6. Rushing 2:58
7. Bodyrock 3:34
8. Natural Blues 4:12
9. Machete 3:36
10. 7 1:00
11. Run On 3:44
12. Down Slow 1:32
13. If Things Were Perfect 4:16
14. Everloving 3:24
15. Inside 4:46
16. Guitar Flute & String 2:07
17. The Sky Is Broken 4:16
18. My Weakness 3:37


Neal said...

You know what's funny? You only feel a little older or younger than some people when you talk about high school/college dates. Jessica and I are only eleven months apart, so it throws me off that she was in the year before me for those. And when you were about to graduate high school and listening to Play, I had discovered Moby from a roommate, and actually debated going to a concert of his at a club in London (I was in the UK for a semester with a group from my college spring of 2000).

I think a lot of Moby's music hits me the same way it does you. I also liked his Everything Is Wrong album enough to buy it (though it's not as consistently good as Play), and his "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" on that album lulled me to sleep many nights. I know Michael Mann used that in the final confrontation of his movie Heat, and that added a poignancy to it that it might not have had without the musical overlay.

Your experience with church when you were younger reminds me a little of a church we were involved with up here. They weren't really money-grubbing (though we didn't care for how they raised money for their new church building), but they were very shallow. They were a hip church with hip music and wanted to get people in the door, but there was little there for those who wanted to grow more in their faith. Faith is certainly affected by deep and profound moments (sometimes influenced by music, etc.), but they're not the only thing that affects faith, or makes it last.

Neal said...

And too funny, you mentioned "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" and Heat in much the same way in your next review. Great minds, man, great minds.

Nicholas said...

Man, "hip" churches creep me out. I generally feel most comfortable when there is a decent mix of age groups, and that upon further conversation, most of the congregants have a well-worn faith and a certain level of maturity...generally not a very hip thing.
It's funny how that particular event was attempting to make me have a profound moment on their terms, and I instead experienced a profound moment that had nothing to do with what they were doing. I think the right kind of profound moments generally lead to a sort of lifetime routine of vital, minor offspring, which is essentially what I experienced at that moment, and what my faith life has been since (of course with a couple more profound moments tossed in).
Also, Heat. What a movie! Without that ending, though, I'm not sure the whole thing comes together how it does, and when "character who doesn't die" takes the hand of "character who is dying" that music flaring up casts the entire movie that came before it in a more spiritual, archetypal light.

Neal said...

Yeah, I hear you on the hip church thing. I mean, I keep on things and all that, but I have never really been hip or cool (other than when some junior highers I was teaching saw me reading Ender's Game, but I don't think that counts), so it feels out of place to go to a church that aims for that. I don't want churches to be stuck in the mud (I've had to deal with a few of those, too), but somewhere in between seems to be what ends up feeling the most geniuine. Maybe because that's where most of us end up if we're at least trying? I dunno.

As for Heat, I think that's the movie of Michael Mann's that's spoken to me on some level. He's got a level of respect for "professionals" that comes across very clearly, but it doesn't always click or gel for me. Probably what made me like Heat is that it had these elements that kind of questioned that professionality, if that makes sense. Would you care about De Niro's character if he didn't seem interested in having a personal relationship (or go after Waingro), even if that goes against the philosophy of being ready to leave the second the heat comes? And would you like Pacino's character if there wasn't some aspect about him that made Portman's character want him to save her on some level? They are similar and contrasting pair and it works very well for me--probably his opus, I would say (though I admittedly haven't seen all his movies).

Your review of MobySongs has me tempted to get that album. I was listening to Everything is Wrong the other day, and I was reminded of how off kilter that album is. The first half is probably the roughest for me, with some songs having a crazed rhythm that is appealing (sometimes, like "Feeling So Real") and others that just leave me going "meh." The second half, however, is excellent, and a lot of those tracks made it onto MobySongs, like First Cool Hive, Into the Blue, God Moving Over the Face of the Waters, etc.

Nicholas said...

Man, that's an incredibly astute observation about why Heat is so satisfying and connects the way that it does. You put into words something that I thought was abstract and intangible.
I've seen most of Mann's films. Nothing comes close to Heat, except for maybe The Informant. Everything else is style over substance. Kind of like how Ridley Scott seemed far more cerebral after Alien and Bladerunner, but has proven in the last three decades to be not much more than a spectacular visualist--though maybe time has stripped him of his deeper curiosities.
MobySongs is worth it, though a lot of the best songs are also on Everything is Wrong.

Neal said...

Ah, thanks! I was just trying to parse out what made Heat stick with me more than other Michael Mann movies I have seen, and that's what registered with me. Similarly, the movie Ronin stands out as a little more than a fun and well done heist/spy/action movie at times because of De Niro's interest in a female character... at least it seemed to add a longing wistfulness to it that moved beyond a mere spy/action movie. They led lonely lives and there was some hope to change that on his character's part, I would say. Not sure if you've seen it, but that's a good flick that I still remember even though I only saw it once or twice after it came out on VHS or whatever around 2000. :p

I will admit to having an extremely fond spot in my heart for The Last of the Mohicans, though. It's different than the book, obviously (hilariously, I discovered parts of the plot are inverted when I read the book shortly after seeing the movie), but it's still a solid movie. There's more to it than a fun action/adventure movie with some sweet musket and tomahawk combat scenes (and an excellent soundtrack).

I'd actually put Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven in somewhat the same boat. Ridley Scott was nibbling around the fringes of an intriguing character journey for Orlando Bloom's blacksmith turned knight, but he got lost in his recent usual need to make a Hollywood blockbuster. Gladiator even more so. Every time I watch that movie, I'm amazed at how enjoyable the first chunk is, only to have it get more and more "meh." It's like the movie descends with Joaquin Phoenix into ever greater shades of ridiculousness (seriously, good villains are not whiny, bat-crap insane little gits. The propmaster should have given him a moustache to twirl so they'd realize how ridiculous he was getting).

Nicholas said...

Ah, Ronin. It is one of the movies I rented and double-VCR recorded back in the 90's, when I was a rebel. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it since that illustrious decade. I remember liking it a lot then, and I'd love to watch it now.
Never seen Mohicans, though it was the favorite of a few high school friends.
Never seen Kingdom of Heaven...have heard the director's cut improves upon the original. Have you watched that version?

Neal said...

Oh, goodness, you nailed it. I really do enjoy Gladiator early on, but that line is so indicative of his over the topness in the last half... yeesh.

I haven't seen Ronin in years, but I remember it well enough to be able to comment on it. Last of the Mohicans is good, and I figure you would like it. The action is well-done and it has a good storyline (and all the acting is solid). The other nice thing is that the antagonists each have depth and their actions make sense, which is a nice departure from a lot of Hollywood fare. It's to the point where you can say everyone's action has a true human motivation! Shocking! And if nothing else, you'll enjoy the soundtrack. Nice and evocative of the era. The piece where Daniel Day-Lewis and his adoptive brother are providing cover for a scout to make it through French lines is a standout guitar piece.

I liked Kingdom of Heaven enough to watch it a second time with Jessica (these were back in our dating days, and I saw it on my own first). Both were the theatrical version, however. Looking at IMDB's summary of the differences, it does sound like it's better (if quite a bit longer). The original is interesting in how it treats the Crusades, on both sides. There are immoral or warmongery types on both sides, more rational heads, and true believers--it's hard to say without watching the Director's Cut, but the faith aspect sounds like it's added to a bit as well. You still have some mustache twirling villainry (Brendan Gleeson pulls his off with aplomb--no surprise there), but it's mostly done better than Gladiator.

Just from the list, though, it sets up things better at the opening--much better. Things were a little too fast and unexplained before for some aspects of Bloom's background and character (and the situation with his father is better set up as well)). Unfortunately, it sounds like it's more gory, but the action I remember was pretty good, too. Real and visceral feeling, like in Gladiator. Sounds like they pushed it go Braveheart levels, heh.