Documentary Evidence



Moby 'Ambient' CD artwork

album // Ambient

instinct records (us) / equator records (uk) | lp/cd/c ex-253 (us) / atlas002 (uk)| 17/08/1993 | track listing

Quite where Moby's Ambient fits into his back catalogue is debatable. It was released in 1993 on New York's Instinct imprint, by which time Moby had already forged ties with Mute in the UK and elsewhere in the world (his single 'Move' was released just a fortnight after this LP). When Lauren Laverne recently interviewed Moby on 6Music to talk about Destroyed, purportedly his tenth album, Moby was quick to point out that he didn't actually know if it was his tenth album or not becaue of the releases put out by Instinct; elsewhere, in the liner notes for Rare: The Collected B-Sides (1989 - 1993), a compilation released on Instinct, Ambient is described as one of Moby's first three albums, the others being Moby (released in the UK as The Story So Far) and Early Underground. Given that the latter is another Instinct compilation it's not hard to see why Moby himself is confused, let alone the rest of us. Add to the fact that there's yet another compilation which Instinct released in 1991 (Instinct Dance) and you are left with the impression that this is Moby's third or second album, or possibly yet another compilation.

Enough back catalogue navel gazing, on to the music: the clue's in the title. 'Ambient', as a genre, was always a fairly loose one; it includes anything from The Orb's brand of dubbed-up electronica, Brian Eno's fragile drifting pieces, Pete Namlook's more spatial work, Biosphere's frozen tundra and Aphex Twin's melodic tracks and many, many other artists and variations. Another way of looking at ambient music is to think of it as music that you wouldn't necessarily play in a club (though there are places that would), which brings us back to Moby who, in 1993 (or whenever this was actually recorded) was chiefly interested in music you could dance to. Ambient is, consequently, a much more chilled out affair though, unlike many more seasoned ambient practitioners, most of the twelve tracks here are all driven forward by a house-y beat of one description or another.

Tracks like 'Myopia' and 'Tongues' (that title, plus the front cover was enough to put me off purchasing this album for nearly twenty years) are propelled forward on deep if skeletal house beats, with lots of resonant bass and rich reverb to get your head into a suitably fuzzy place. These tracks are slow-developers, the layers on something like the subtly epic eight-minute 'Dog' evolving gracefully from their rudimentary beginnings. (Incidentally on Moby's Twitter feed he often mentions dogs, and occasionally posts pictures of weird-looking mutts; he also recorded a track called 'Dog Heaven', which may or may not be an amalgam of two tracks here). Stylistically it's most like The End Of Everything (released under Moby's Voodoo Child alias on Mute), just with more obvious dancefloor leanings.

Elsewhere tracks like the opener, 'My Beautiful Sky' or 'House Of Blue Leaves' have a vaguely 'tribal' dimension; the latter has a jazzy vibe and a naive Eighties synthpop edge, while something like 'J Breas' is built up from rich, almost classical piano patterns. 'Bad Days' is a backward-drum beat hip hop affair with fluttering synth squeaks circling from one channel to the other. I don't think I need describe 'Piano & String'.

Sometimes, the notion that this may well be another early album of compiled off-cuts from Moby is reinforced by something like the synth arpeggios of 'Sound' or the guitar-style sounds of '80' which feel less like proper tracks and more like inchoate sketches.

Generally, though, Ambient is a really good, but oft-overlooked album in the Moby back catalogue and it stacks up very well against some of the other chill-out releases from back in the early Nineties. The fact that I fell asleep while listening to it the first time is a compliment to how relaxed it made me feel, not because I was bored.

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1. My Beautiful Blue Sky
2. Heaven
3. Tongues
4. J Breas
5. Myopia
6. House Of Blue Leaves
7. Bad Days
8. Piano & String
9. Sound
10. Dog
11. 80
12. Lean On Me

(c) 2011 MJA Smith / Documentary Evidence