Deals in the more abstract and profound dilemmas of the human condition.
Moby stared doomsday in the face over the past two years, releasing two high-energy, guitar-oriented records with the Void Pacific Choir that foresaw our social devolution (2016’s These Systems Are Failing) and vented the outrage-exhaustion that’s become synonymous with the Trump era (2017’s More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse). Much like Kurt Vonnegut, from whose work he borrows the title of his fifteenth album, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt, Moby now looks for transcendence amid the chaos and pain inherent to the human condition, using melancholic subject matter to create one of his most mellifluous albums in years.
Eschewing his recent foray in fast-paced guitar songs that harkened to his Animal Rights-era work, Everything Was Beautiful hits the downtempo sweet spot in which 20th-century Moby thrived. Indulging in a trip-hop aesthetic that feels reinvigorated 20 years after its heyday, the album utilizes ethereal and soulful female vocals to complement Moby’s morose, poetic spoken-word delivery. Moby’s penchant for incorporating gospel and blues elements into his electronic music resurfaces here. On “Like a Motherless Child,” he borrows lyrics from a traditional spiritual dating back to slavery, featuring L.A. soul singer Raquel Rodriguez on the refrain as Moby’s verses smoothly express the lurking sense of dread within our modern world.
Moby applies a deft touch to the album’s many orchestral arrangements, allowing them to swell majestically without billowing into outright grandiosity. On the sublime “The Ceremony of Innocence,” tender piano arpeggios build toward haunting waves of strings and a celestially-tinged choir. The album often exudes a dulcet atmosphere that belies the bleak undercurrent of Moby’s lyrics. One exception to this is opening track “Mere Anarchy,” which features Moby’s vocal at its most melodic, but the music is nevertheless fraught with a palpable sense of anxiety amid ruin, as he sings of watching “the city fall” and “the storm rise.” It’s an effective transition point from the apocalyptic focus of his previous two efforts, incorporating some of the same themes but softening the sound with sweeping strings and a downtempo emphasis as he taps into a Vonnegutian worldview of our ultimate powerlessness, which only heightens the urgency to search for ephemeral moments of beauty amid cultural chaos.
Whereas Moby’s other recent records have included pointed societal critiques, Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt steps back and deals in the more abstract and profound dilemmas of the human condition, while exploring the notion that even collapse contains beauty. “Falling Rain and Light” is a gorgeous soundscape that blends organic and synthetic instrumentation in a song about the exquisite anguish of longing and the need for interpersonal connection. “This Wild Darkness” employs a choir to express spiritual themes, both referencing the abstract “hidden and divine” and directly calling out to someone else for help, as Moby admits “I can’t stand on my own anymore.” But it’s a desperate spirituality, a response to a growing sense of unease, that informs this album. On the smoldering closer “A Dark Cloud Is Coming,” guest vocalist Apollo Jane sings, “Called out to you, Lord/ But you never came,” on a track that’s emblematic of the album’s overarching juxtaposition of ominous sentiments with harmonious textures.