Skip to main content

100 Albums: "Play" by Moby

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Moby
Title: Play
Released: 1999
Genre: alt-rock but also techno and somehow kind of archival?


Alt-rock and grunge were on the wane in the late 90s, having been displaced by nü-metal, rap-rock, and the boy-band revival. Into that melange, enter Moby, a tiny bald vegan from New York whose song Natural Blues was essentially an EDM-lite remix of a Depression-era Mississippi Delta song by Vera Hall. So when that creeped into radio playlists, my cohort's collective reaction was "Wait, what the hell was that? Play it again!"

Though Play felt like a bolt from the blue, Moby had been working in music for nearly two decades. He'd started in the early 80s playing guitar for a hardcore punk band called the Vatican Commandos and then had a career as a DJ and techno artist through the late 80s and early 90s. In the mid-90s he'd started blending those sensibilities, putting out Everything Is Wrong, which has the vibe and tempo (mostly) of an alt-rock album but whose songs are largely structured like EDM songs and sung by guests vocalists. Several of those had found their way onto film--notably God Moving Over The Face Of The Water, which is prominently featured in the finale of Michael Mann's crime drama Heat.

Play takes those same musical sensibilities but adds a new gimmick: several tracks feature vocals sampled from delta blues songs. Trouble So Hard becomes Natural BluesJoe Lee's Rock becomes Find My Baby. Moby himself sings on a few, notably the singles Porcelain and Southside, the latter of which featured Gwen Stefani on both the single re-mix and music video (honestly, I prefer the non-Gwen version, but your mileage may vary). Overall, it's an odd duck of an album. It absolutely should not work, but it does work and it's kind of amazing. Moby's process at this point was to just record 150 songs in his apartment and then pick his favorite 17 or 18 to make the record. It's mostly driven by piano and slide guitar over looped drums. There are a half dozen lead vocalists. The liner notes contain essays about veganism, prison reform, and fundamentalism. It includes progressive dance (Bodyrock), gospel (Run On), spoken word (The Sky Is Broken), ambient instrumental (Inside), alt-rock (Southside), in addition to the delta blues remixes (Natural BluesFind My BabyHoney).

It is, in short, Moby being Moby. This is the man who, as a successful musician, opened a tea store in New York City where he would occasionally buss tables. He's just a guy who found a way to make a living doing what he loves, and his albums are always just doing whatever he's interested in, and for a while there, whatever he was interested in happened to be very popular.

Further Listening: If not for my one-album-per-artist rule, Everything Is Wrong would be on this list for sure. Animal Rights, which fell between EiW and Play, is an interesting mix of lo-fi punk and ambient piano that just doesn't quite work. I do like 18, the follow-up to Play, but it doesn't break any new ground. It feels very much like a re-tread of the Play formula.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

100 Albums

Hello all!

In an attempt to keep the old blog from atrophying, I'm going to try out a project a friend of mine did a few years ago and spend the year writing about some of my favorite albums. So over the next 50 weeks, you can expect a couple entries a week until we get to 100. Or until I run out of steam and give up. Whichever comes first.

The only rule I'm giving myself here is to limit things to one album per artist. If that would preclude other favorite albums from making the list, I'll note it, but I don't want the list to be completely overrun by Radiohead and the Beatles. I'm going to start at the top of the list (that is, with my #1 favorite), but the ordering is not super rigorous--especially beyond the first twenty or so.

I'll put a master list on a page that's easily accessible from the front and I'll probably throw in some supplemental stuff, like albums I loved as a child but can't really listen to anymore for various reasons or albums …

"Writing Lots!" by Dawn Vogel

Hi, I'm Dawn, and I'm doing guest post here on Kurt's blog. I write fantasy, steampunk, YA, and pretty much anything else that looks shiny for a moment. You can learn more about me here! Today, I'm talking about how I write as much as I do.

I've been writing since I knew how to do so, but I've been writing with an eye toward publication for about eleven years. As I've gotten more comfortable with the craft of writing, my productivity has increased dramatically. In the first six years I was writing seriously, I wrote fewer than twenty short stories, all told. Over the next three years, I increased my output and wrote about a dozen stories a year (with an occasional poem mixed in). Last year, I wrote 38 short stories/flash and 6 poems. This year, I've already surpassed that, and it's only September.

In analyzing how I've increased my output so dramatically, I've found three main keys to my prolific writing: 1) planning, 2) stolen moments, and 3)…

100 Albums: "Untitled (IV/Zoso)" by Led Zeppelin

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Led Zeppelin
Title: untitled
Released: 1971
Genre: classic rock


Is there a more epic album opening than Black Dog? Plant screaming "Hey, Hey, Mama..." and a trio of musicians exploding into that proto-metal riff behind him? There's a reason Led Zeppelin is always included in discussions of who might be the greatest rock band of all time: Plant's bluesy wail, Bonham's impossibly huge drum sound, Page's guitar work--and tone, when people talk about "vintage guitar tone" they're talking about Jimmy Page--and Jones's bass and keys (bassists are the unsung heroes of rock, and Jones's bass work here is low-key phenomenal). They're an iconic band, and this is their most iconic album.

Officially untitled, but commonly referred to as either Zoso or IV, this record is not only their best-selling, but it contains their most well-known song, Stairway To H…