Moby‘s early albums are something of a mystery, in general. There’s Moby, or The Story So Far, which collects a few of his early hits including Go. I believe Ambient came after that, fifteen years ago this week in 1993, and so it could loosely be thought of as his second album, and then the compilations Early Underground and Rare: The Collected B-Sides followed later.
I gather Moby has disowned most of these early releases, and for me, this might be a controversial view, but I think Ambient is the only one of these that’s worth spending much time on. That’s not to say there’s anything particularly wrong with the tracks on the others, but I can’t help but feel they might be better enjoyed on obscure underground 12″ white labels, which was, let’s face it, the way they were originally released anyway.
Ambient opens with My Beautiful Blue Sky, a piano and pad piece that will now be very familiar if you’ve heard any of Moby‘s later material (which you have), but it’s punctuated by some brilliant sound effects and a lot of tribal drumming, and so it generally works well. You might have to put to one side for a few minutes the realisation that you have heard this kind of thing many times since on his other tracks, and accept that this was probably the first time he had done anything like this. It’s sweet and gentle, and very pleasant to listen to.
Heaven is a surprise – it’s a soft, repetitive, analogue piece, which goes on for over eight minutes, but is without a doubt one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Moby has ever recorded. Aptly named, and very good indeed. Same for Tongues, although the listening commitment is considerably less.
J Breas brings us the first real taste of Moby‘s interest in the piano as a tool to change the mood, and with a little help from heavy minor chords and softly reverberating pads, this sounds very different to most of the other tracks on here. It does sound a little dated too, although it’s difficult to say exactly why – I wonder whether the sounds are from some of the early 1990s synthesisers that aren’t quite as fashionable these days.
So it continues. Myopia is another excellent, almost beatsy piece (although it doesn’t really have any beats). House of Blue Leaves is a bit of a deviation, standing out both as less ambient than most of the other tracks, and also not nearly as good, but it’s harmless.
The nice thing about the middle section of the album is all the short tracks – Bad Days is a miniature deep, droning piece that only lasts a couple of minutes, then Piano and String is a very short but hard-hitting piece. Sound is short and sweet too, and in about five minutes we’ve passed by three tracks already.
Dog follows a similar vein to Heaven, and is consequently pretty good too. If you were trying to look for ways to criticise it, you might find the high arpeggios just a little bit annoying after a while, but it’s varied enough otherwise for that not to be a problem.
By this point, the album is pretty much over – all that’s left are the softer pieces 80 and Lean on Me, which bring it to a close. As a debut, or at least an early work by Moby, this shows more than just promise. If he had never released anything else, I’d like to think it might be remembered as an excellent collection of laid back music – but he did, and it’s been largely overshadowed. Which is a very great shame.
This album seems to have long-since been deleted, and is not available digitally, but you can still find plenty of second-hand physical copies floating around at places like this one.