We’re constantly being told we live in a hyper-accelerated, hyper-real age, where sound bites and short attention spans are the functional tools of survival. With entire record collections available online as boiled-down bit torrents—with virtually every song ever recorded, in fact, floating around in MP3 cyberspace just waiting to be grabbed—who the hell has any time to slow down and listen to a full-length concept album? Deeper still, who can find the time to make one?
Somehow, Alex Moulton did, even though he arguably logs more travel, face time and 12-hour work days than most high-profile foreign diplomats. As musician, producer, DJ, music video director and CEO of the Expansion Team media production company and record label, Moulton has squeezed several lifetimes of creative output into just the last ten years, and lately he shows no signs of easing off the gas. With the release of his sprawling solo debut Exodus, he conjures a retro-utopian vision of a happier time, when albums were real albums and music was presented not just as disembodied chunks of digital information, but as a full-on experience.
“Although I understand the reasons why, it makes me sad that the album format is breathing its last breath,” Moulton explains. “So just as the final nail is being driven into the coffin, I wanted to honor the tradition of the great epic concept albums of the late ’70s. It’s possible I may be among the last generation that spent hours listening to LPs, staring at gatefold covers and imagining the world that the music painted in my head, and that’s the experience I wanted to recreate with Exodus. I believe those moments turn someone into a real music lover—it doesn’t come from listening to singles.”
That might sound almost hopelessly nostalgic, but Exodus is much more than just a walk down memory lane. Although seasoned crate diggers will detect vintage ’70s influences as far-flung as Tangerine Dream, Giorgio Moroder, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre and even Lipps Inc., Exodus moves beyond mere synth-pop prog-rock worship to embody a larger vision—one where the music becomes an all-enveloping narrative, inviting the listener into a gear-shifting, headphone-friendly mindtrip.
“I was trained as a filmmaker,” Moulton says, “so I always write music with a visual in mind. In this case I actually created a full-realized storyline—an epic sci-fi adventure, or a space-opera, if you will—that builds in a climactic arc with all the plot twists and turns. The songs are presented continuously like a DJ set, but they’re also like key scenes for a film. And even though I know what the characters are doing at every moment of each song, I’m hoping listeners will create their own story.”
For his part, Moulton serves as both conductor and funky time traveler, hurtling toward deep outta space (as the late great Billy Preston so elegantly put it) on a musical journey that’s by turns irreverent, groovacious and, at times, exuberantly cheesy. “I think electronic music often takes itself way too seriously,” he laments. “Everyone wants to be the coolest new DJ or whatever, but the electronic acts I love most aren’t afraid to let it all hang out, from Chromeo to Lemon Jelly to Daft Punk. Isn’t that what funky music is all about?”
The fun begins when Exodus initiates lift-off with “Overture,” a churning, gurgling orchestral piece that morphs into a Blade Runner-like soundscape just as Daniel Correa (from the New York-based Colombian fusion band Samurindo) crashes in on a duly echo-kissed drum kit. As he does throughout the album, Moulton taps into a litany of Moog, ARP 2600 and Yamaha CS80 synth patches for a lush and endlessly layered sound. It’s a richness of analog synthesis that recalls the best work of Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu! or any of the coolest motorik groups you can name, but when tracks like the trunk-bumping “Out of Phase” or the whimsical trance rocker “Flaming Swords” bang into the mix, it becomes clear that Moulton is equally enamored of the latest in minimalist techno and the psychedelic rock resurgence—and much more. (Even the tribal drums of “The Sacrifice”—a drums-only groove inspired by Afro-Colombian rhythms with an uncut, live-in-the-studio feel—would give cats like Timbaland a run for their bling.)
With so many ideas to convey, Moulton couldn’t resist inviting a few other musicians and fellow travelers to the party. Along with Correa (who plays drums and percussion on over half of the 14 tracks on Exodus), Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron adds an envelope-soaked wah bass to the disco-funk workout “Meridians,” while José Luis Pardo (aka DJ Afro of Los Amigos Invisibles) drops some slinky guitar riffage on “Paradise”—which, by the way, surges into the sublime thanks to a murderous keyboard solo by Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. (known for his stints with Beck and Air), who invokes Herbie Hancock and The Isley Brothers with some smoke to spare.
“All my inspirations get channeled through what feels right for the dancefloor today,” Moulton says, citing the mixing acumen of two-time Grammy-winning engineer Marc Urselli and the mastering stroke of Nilesh Patel (of Daft Punk and Chemical Brothers fame), “so there are some very modern elements to the music, and it’s mixed and mastered the way a record needs to be now. But again, it’s a total concept album. I wanted to make something like a Pink Floyd record, where you put it on and you listen to the whole thing all the way through and it takes you on this crazy journey. It’s progressive, it’s funky and it probably has no place in a singles-driven market, but I’m doing it because when I was a kid this is what I had imagined music would sound like at the dawn of the 21st Century.”