The theme of excess is a key component of what’s been billed as Moby & the Void Pacific Choir’s debut, These Systems Are Failing. The album’s 12 furiously paced tracks recall Moby’s 1996 album Animal Rights, which was deeply rooted in the hardcore punk influences of the musician’s youth. This newest project takes the frantic urgency of the artist’s early work and polishes the edges, adding an electronic sheen to what are otherwise guitar songs, all in the name of pointing to the modern world’s most destructive flaws.
Though the vocals are often obscured throughout much of These Systems Are Failing by fuzzed-out guitar, thumping techno drums, or buzzing synth geysers, the album’s themes are made abundantly clear in an accompanying video manifesto, which opens with underwater images of Moby shouting into a microphone while his voiceover calmly intones, “In the beginning, we were a desperate species. We needed things, and if you had things, you were happy, you were fed, you survived.” He goes on to point out that industry, government, and social institutions were built for us to more easily acquire those “things,” but asserts that, even after we’ve triumphed over the “old deaths” caused by lack of access to essentials, these increasingly unsustainable systems keep producing ad infinitum and have gone on to cause an addiction to superfluity at the expense of the planet.
Despite its kinetic sense of urgency, the album isn’t an environmental or political call to arms so much as a resignation to the idea and we must let the snake eat its own tail; rebirth can only occur after destruction. Moby states this most explicitly on “Are You Lost in the World Like Me?,” asking, “If the systems fail, are you free?” over a squall of guitar and synth and a palpitating drum beat. He invokes the hyperbolic doomsday notion of “black days and a dying sun” that’s still capable of blinding, a parallel for how crumbling institutions still pose a grave danger until they’re fully extinguished.
For as much as These Systems Are Failing’s video announcement focused on literal examples of wasteful societal ills, including images of Black Friday big-box store riots presented alongside shots of authoritarian regimes, the album itself cloaks his message in abstract celestial imagery and vaguely religious generalities that come off as trite. On the propulsive “Break.Doubt,” Moby laments that we are “fighting wars with the shadows now” and “selling off heaven for a perfect hell.” Heaven is referenced again on “A Simple Love,” as he warns of such banal specters as fear and doubt while extolling the broadly painted virtues of kindness, hope, and love. Moby narrows his scope to more existential questions on “Erupt and Matter,” when he sings, “I wake up in the dance hall/Look around, is that all?” Even at his most philosophical, though, Moby barely touches on the specific failings the album’s title suggests.
For all of These Systems Are Failing’s political and environmentally conscious promotion, the album too often obscures Moby’s message with abstractions and platitudes. While a curious, if somewhat jarring, departure from 2013’s serene Innocents, this distortion-laden album too often blurs into cacophony and muddled by passive-aggressive calls for anarchy.