Let’s start this review off by stating the obvious, shall we? The album cover art for Alex Moulton’s Exodus is easily the most bitchin’ thing you’ll see all year. The Boris Vallejo/Julie Bell painting depicts a muscle-bound hero and bikini-clad beauty soaring through the sky over a city being ravaged by fire, while a giant spaceship looms in the background.
In a word, “awesome,” the sort of artwork that Han Solo might paint on the side of the Millennium Falcon to celebrate the Kessel Run. What’s more, the artwork prepares you for something truly out-of-this world, a vintage, sci-fi, galacti-freakout so over the top that it makes albums like Daft Punk’s Discovery sound tame by comparison — which is almost certainly something that Moulton, with his background in the visual arts, intended.
Moulton and his collaborators certainly delve into the same sonic territory as the Punk, namely funky, “the future as imagined in 1978” synthesizer jams inspired by the likes of Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream, and Vangelis. Vintage analog synthesizer sounds abound, ricocheting back and forth like laser beams and starlight, and Exodus as a whole has a suitably spaced out, sci-fi backdrop… but in the end, it is Exodus’ space opera that ends up being on the tamer side of things.
While certain tracks (e.g., “Paradise,” “Vicious”) contain stunning pyrotechnics that lend the album a spacebound air — especially “Paradise“ ‘s virtuosic synthesizer solo — the rest of the album exhibits a restraint and mellowness that often feels counterproductive to the scale of epic-ness towards which Moulton is so clearly striving.
Part of the problem, I suspect, lies with the “soundtrack” nature of the album. Moulton developed an entire storyline for the album and mapped the album’s fourteen tracks to its scenes, plot twists, and character developments. Unfortunately, this storyline exists only in Moulton’s head, and so, while the music might be especially vivid for him, listeners are often left in the dark.
Although it’s easy to imagine parts of the storyline — the pulsing, crushing programming and insistent synth-work on “Meridians” would do well for an asteroid chase sequence, “Paradise” might lend itself nicely to a space-glam dogfight, and album closer “L’Arc En Ciel” has a contemplative and romantic air perfect for the reunion of kosmische lovers — you can’t help but feel like you’re missing out on something for long stretches of the album.
Which doesn’t necessarily make those stretches of the album “bad.” If nothing else, the cohesive nature of the album makes for some ideal space-age lounge muzak. But it does make them less captivating. Especially when you have in mind the vivid bitchin-ness of the album cover art, which constantly looms over Moulton’s compositions like the space cruiser it depicts.
It’s admirable of Moulton to want listeners to exercise their own imagination when listening to the album, so as to create their own storyline. But ultimately, it is his music and his soundtrack, and I for one, would like to know what lurks behind it. Perhaps all that’s needed is his own Interstella 5555, something for Moulton the video director to create that complements the saga that Moulton the musician has composed — a saga that, for now, is difficult to truly experience.