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Friday, November 24, 2006


Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.

06. MOBY - UNDERWATER (1995)
Personnel: Moby
Label: Mute

Ambient music is not something you expect to find by accident.

I remember the first time I had really heard anything about Brian Eno. I was at a girl's house and one of her friends--a balding chap with a ponytail--brought over some Eno CD he had been searching for and finally found. He showed us the diagram inside that explained how to listen to it for its full effect, you had to sit in the dead center of four speakers. He said that it was the sort of music that sounded like it was never changing but that actually was, you had to let it work with your subconscious.

I think I was 18 or 19. I couldn't understand why the hell anyone would want to listen to such a thing. After all, wasn't the description itself just boring?

It was four or five years later that Moby released Everything is Wrong, arguably still his best album, despite the brilliant shine job he gave to the music of Play (his last good album). The Sam Goody's in the mall had an import version that boasted, "Includes special Bonus CD 'Underwater' (43.11 mins)." I was all about the bonus CDs back then. It was worth paying double the price of a regular record if you could buy the import with a bonus--a concept that had not yet made it to US shores. Record companies couldn't see giving away anything for free until file sharing scared the bejeezus out of them.

Underwater wasn't available anywhere else as far as I know. Most of the time, if I mention it to someone I know likes Moby (a dwindling population), they haven't even heard of it. Yet, this album bundled on an obscure British edition of the artist's second proper disc completely changed how I looked at music.

Underwater is exactly what its name makes it sound like: a five-part ambient symphony that makes you feel like you are at the bottom of the ocean. It was a fitting companion to Everything is Wrong, which has cover images of Moby submerged in water, and the back half of the record has several songs that evoke dropping down into the deep: "Into the Blue," "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters," and my personal favorite, "When It's Cold I'd Like To Die," featuring vocals by Mimi Goese, singer of Hugo Largo.

Those tracks are proper songs, however. They have beats, melodies, choruses. Such is not the case of Underwater. Rather, that piece of music is all sensation, all restraint. Shallow movements to approximate deeper oceanic feelings. Rather than a bass line or any kind of rhythm track, Moby lays down a constant hum, the consistent movement of oceanic waters. Then, over the course of the forty-three minutes, he creates crests of sound, a swell of synthesized strings that just rises, rises, rises, and then fades, giving away to the next one. They are like currents, like waves. They come steadily, but they remain calm. Moby is not recording stormy waters, but the peaceful expanse of the quietest fathoms.

It's a beautiful mini-epic, something I surprised myself by being able to listen to regularly. I was unaware that music could be so effective in such a minimalist way. This was also around the time I first discovered Low, and so it was a perfect moment for me to learn the power of redaction. Underwater is significant because it would open the door for me to find other music of its kind, to explore the innovators that influenced Moby to take this approach. Yes, I would finally listen to Brian Eno. Who knew something called Music for Airports would not be cold and clinical, but would be something else entirely?

As it turns out, you can download Underwater for $1.67. In this internet age, nothing disappears.

#26 #25 #24 #23 #22 #21 #20 #19 #18 #17 #16 #15 #14 #13 #12 #11 #10 #9 #8
#7 (The first 26) (Permanent Records iMix 1)

Current Soundtrack: Moby, Everything is Wrong/Underwater

Current Mood: content

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[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich

1 comment:

Jake said...

Moby is a genious, and I have yet to find better ambient music. I fall asleep to Underwater often, and it's great. I'm really impressed that he released another ambient album (Walk with me bonus cd is an ambient version of the original album). You should listen to "Bang on Cans" version of music for airports too, it's amazing.