#7songs2016: Of Mobience and Talking Heads

If you had to pick seven songs from this year or yesteryear that have meant the world to you in 2016, what would they be? The best music is timeless. And some of it is completely free.

All music plays with time. You might want a song you love never to end. You might want your life to end on hearing the first notes of a song you hate.

The best music is timeless.

#7Songs2016 (Volume II): Moby – Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.

Gentle reader, let us talk four-letter words. There is a particular four-letter word I’ve used a lot on this blog this year.

“Moby” is that four-letter word. I’ve blogged at length about the wonder of his memoir Porcelain.* It conjures time and place like no other book I’ve read this year. It lives and breathes with a delight in music and life, and charms the reader with an endlessly self-deprecating humour. For example:

“If a sanitation worker from Queens came to me and asked if I’d be interested in DJ’ing in his living room for him and his grandmother, I probably would have said, ‘Yes, but only if you don’t pay me.’”

Reading Porcelain reminded me how much I always loved Moby’s Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad.** 

It also lead me to explore some of Moby’s ambient works. Moby + ambient = Mobience? That one probably won’t catch on…

First I sampled his bluntly monikered 1993 album, Ambient. Then on to what is easily the album I’ve listened to most this year: Moby’s 2016 Brian Eno-indebebted ambient epic Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.

Is it cheating a tad to include a four-hour album in a rundown of seven songs that have meant the world to me in 2016? I’d argue that this album functions perfectly as a single musical entity, a continuous meditative musical mood piece – albeit an extremely long one.

Ambient music at its greatest takes you completely outside of time. It permits you to leave the everyday, to engage as much or as little with the music as you feel, and to let your mind wander.

It’s this last quality that makes this Moby record a perfect accompaniment to blogging for me.

For the most part, I do my blogging very early of a Saturday morning. The world at its stillest and most silent. The coffee hot and strong. Blogging is meditative for me. I certainly can’t ever work with music playing. But I can seem to blog if exactly the right music is playing. I have spent countless hours blogging this year, lost in this Moby ambient epic.***

I would go so far as to nominate Moby as my gent of the year. On top of sharing with the world one of the best books of this year and one of 2016’s best albums, he is also a great talker and a lovely soul. I cannot recommend his recent appearances on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast and the Nerdist podcast sufficiently highly. He is as politically engaged as he is artistically gifted. I love these stark words from his Quietus interview with Steve Ignorant of Crass last month, on these times of Trump and of climate change denial:

“Future generations, if there even are any, will simply look back at us and say ‘what the fuck were you doing? You knew the world was falling apart and you did nothing to stop it.’”

I love this album. I love also that Moby has made it available completely free of charge, both via the youtube video above, and via a free download from the website of his LA-based vegan restaurant Little Pine (for which this beautiful album is designed as a soundtrack).

Treat yourself to this free record. Treat yourself to Moby’s wonderful memoir.

Thank me later.

#7Songs2016 (Volume III): Talking Heads – The Great Curve

Talking Heads’ The Great Curve transforms time whenever I hear it. This song is 36 years old, but is as fresh as paint, as modern as tomorrow. It makes the moment in which you hear it urgent and alive with endless possibility.

It’s also the favourite Talking Heads song of my good friend Matthew Stollak. Here’s Matthew’s take on The Great Curve:

“The Talking Heads discography is broad and worthy, but the standout track has always been The Great Curve.  The African polyrhythms combined with the strong and complex interplay of the various voices make the sum even greater than its parts.  The world moves on a woman’s hips, indeed!”

The Great Curve comes from Talking Heads’ wonderful album Remain In Light, produced in collaboration with a true hero of mine, Brian Eno. Ambient music pioneer Eno is boundlessly creative, endlessly charming. He will never take the obvious approach. I wrote the following on Eno’s contribution to The Great Curve, back in April:

“Strategies for surrender are what Eno’s approach to art and music has always been about. Cursed or blessed with a short attention span, Eno spends his life coming up with new ways to make things interesting. This involves embracing randomness, accident and surrender. I always think that Talking Heads’ The Great Curve – produced by Eno – is a good example of this. With three different choruses sung simultaneously, it should be unlistenable chaos. But it isn’t. The elements combine into something extraordinary, trance-inducing and joyous.”

I once read somewhere that Eno pushed for the songs on Remain In Light to be sequenced in declining order of beats per minute, so that the album starts at its most frantic, then gradually slows to a meditative calm. The album slows time as you listen to it.

All music plays with time. The best music is timeless.


* Here’s my post on Porcelain. If you’re looking for something to read over the Christmas break, please give Play a go.

** How did Moby come by the beautiful vocals sampled on this song? One of the most insightful and heartening things I’ve heard this year is the “Gregor” episode of the Heavyweight podcast, which tells the tale of the gent that lent Moby the CD from whence the vocals came – and his decades-long campaign to get his CD back.

*** Not that anyone in their right mind would even care, but here are the two other albums I listen to most often whilst a-blogging of a Saturday morning:

  • Hawkwind – The 1999 Party: Long before the dear departed purple one, Prince, was stringing the words “party” and “1999″ together, a bunch of acid-fried longhairs planted their flag on the words on this deeply hypnotic live album (way back in 1974 to be precise, although I believe the album wasn’t released until the late 1990s).
  • Wodensthrone – Loss: An epic record of yearning and surprisingly beautiful British black metal.

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