Despite the “pop rock” label, nobody ever actually expects a pop song from Moby. The poppy sensibilities surface by mistake, usually hidden behind a rhythmic wall of ambiance. Instead, listeners have come to appreciate the New York native’s knack for melancholic electronica — and rightfully so. His songs steal tears. They soundtrack memories. They depress us, but in a good way. Who doesn’t feel emotionally charged after hearing “Extreme Ways” or the six and half minutes of “Memory Gospel”? Sure, there are exceptions. His clubbing days certainly pop and sway, and then there’s the rock anthem “We Are All Made of Stars” or the ethereal pop in “Southside”, but these hardly connect to sunny images. In hindsight, Moby likes to brood, and so do we while listening. Just try and remember the last time you walked around listening to Play or 18 with your head up. C’mon, don’t lie.
In a complete 180 from last year’s dismal Last Night, Moby returns to the dark and delivers his career best with Wait For Me. Listeners might have guessed something big loomed on the horizon when the David Lynch-directed music video for “Shot in the Back of the Head” smashed online media a few months back. The video capitalized on the songs wintry loops and whiny strings, which more or less stabbed at the heart and cut it in little pieces, broiling it over some fine wine — only it didn’t hurt, it felt good. In retrospect now, it was the perfect harbinger for the record, as similar feelings run rampant here, only proving that the Moby people (should) enjoy is back.
He’s worked hard for this return, though. Throughout his tenuous last year of DJ sets, Moby spent most of his time off locked up in his Lower East Side apartment, where he recorded with friends and guests alike, which resulted in, as he calls it, a “more personal record.” This is a fair assessment. Wait For Me breathes, yawns, and reaches out. It’s an evolving record and one that feels different on each listen. There’s a sense of confused dread as well, as if the world’s bleak and beautiful all at once. Why this works is because Moby’s at his most assured here and these songs aren’t just beats and melodies to pawn off to a commercial or a Michael Mann film, they’re sonic anecdotes to the man’s life. Somehow, we connect, too.
Everything about this record is organic, from the Sharpie-decorated album artwork to the song’s analog mixing, yet it still breaks that lo-fi barrier. Much of that comes from the helping hand of Ken Thomas, whose past work with M83 and Sigur Ros has found a happy medium between rough and glossy. With Wait For Me, the two broaden that medium. There’s a sharp concentration on the strings (“Walk With Me”), though there’s this sloppy whirl in the endless loops (“Shot in the Back of the Head”) that comes off dirty and stocky. This production really comes together in “Mistake”, where the violins hone in as if Brian Eno were at the controls, only they’re quickly subdued by the coarse, closet-like vocals that intrude in the most positive sense. If the opportunity to remix Play comes about, Moby might want to consider this style, as it’s a snug fit.
However, there’s nothing fit about this record, at least when it comes to the actual music. This one takes you everywhere. There are moments where it’s spiritually sweeping (“Division”), oddly bluesy/soulful (“Study War”), and just downright lonely (“Ghost Return”) — at its parts, of course. As a whole, it all makes sense. This isn’t an accident. Before its release, Moby insisted that the album was intended to be heard, “as a cohesive body of work.” He’s done just that. While it’s a musical scrapbook of personal reflections and thoughts, the choices he’s made, at least in terms of track listing, are perfect. Sure, it digs deeper and deeper as it progresses, but by the time the lofty airiness of “Slow Light” chimes in, you’re content and ready for departure, and that’s exactly what happens with the very “end credits”-like mood of “Isolate”, which is sure to draw weak comparisons to Radiohead’s “Street Spirit”.
Let’s get something straight. This album is a downer. Don’t expect to work out to this, don’t even consider this a daily favorite. Instead, think of this as a place to go to once and awhile. Much like My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Wait For Me isn’t an album to listen to, it’s an album to feel and embody. So, why dip into bleak waters? Because there’s some important beauty to recognize here. When “JLTF” bobs up, inarguably the album’s true gem, it’s hard to break out of the trance. It’s just so damn pretty. That’s a power every musician attempts, but few ever get to entertain. Some may argue Moby’s done this countless times before, and they’d be right, though on Wait For Me it tastes different. It tastes honest. You don’t need the climax of a film here, or even a specific thought to dwell on, as it brings it to you. In all due respect, Moby’s created a monster with Wait For Me, but oh how majestic it can be.