Virtuality by Scott Mosher (Review)

The album never becomes as compelling as it tries so hard to be, regardless of what you file it under.
Virtuality - Scott Mosher

I’ve been writing about music for several years now, and over time, I’ve learned a few things. First, turntables and rock don’t mix. Second, if you’re pissed off, make sure you have a good reason before you record it for the rest of us. Third, If you think your music is clever (or cutting edge), it’s not. And I’m about to add another one to that list. For God’s sake, don’t ever make up a genre for your music. That kind of privilege is reserved for a very select few. But they’re usually too busy defying genres to define them. I hate to judge albums by their cover, but I found it much harder to take Virtuality seriously after reading Mosher’s comments on the back: “File under Ambient Neo-Progressive Cyber-Rock.”

Here’s the real litmus test; when you read that, did you have to suppress a shudder? If so, than you’re not going to like this album. To Mosher’s credit, that string of hyphens comes pretty close to summing up Virtuality’s sound. Its dreamy, starlit synthwork sure is ambient (my co-worker even thought it was Yanni at first). And I guess it’s progressive, what with the grandiose flourishes and highbrow concepts. And there’s plenty of rock, with loads of thrashing guitar leads that probably owe more to Satriani and Vai than anyone will ever know.

You can’t deny that Mosher is a technically-skilled musician, and that Virtuality is a topnotch recording. The production is excellent, the arrangements are tight, and I’m sure the recording studio was state of the art. But you know what? All technical merit aside, I never once felt any emotional response to the music. In fact, I found it pretty emotionless. Mosher’s guitar-playing may be rich in tone and his leads may be scorching, but nothing ever gave me goosebumps, caused my jaw to drop, or made me want to put the rest of life on hold so that I could listen a little closer.

Lyrically, it’s the same. Virtuality may be a “progressive perspective on socio-political and environmental issues,” but I’m hard-pressed to see that in the cryptic lyrics, which read more like the edited portions of a William Gibson novel than any serious look at corporate corruption, political tyranny, and the environment. “The Human Machine” might be about how human life is increasingly becoming a commodity in our world. However, “The essence of lost humanity/Confined behind more steel circuitry/Lost in a fiber-optic mirror/As the cyborg armies that draw nearer” just sounds like a bunch of Blade Runner-isms strung together. “The Dreaming Eye” sure strives to be the album’s transcendental moment, with references to swimming “in the omnipotence of time,” floating “in a dreamspace ocean,” and whatnot. But if I wanted such obtuseness, I’d turn to Dianetics.

If I’m supposed to take Virtuality seriously, I don’t need be told it’s trying to “forge a dramatic and atmospheric listening experience without genre-specific constraints while attaining a dynamic rarely heard in today’s corporate musical climate.” I don’t need a senior thesis on Mosher’s musical vision, including his “experimental proto-electronic trance-rock rap-funk-metal” projects. I don’t need a documentary on the concept behind the cover art. And I don’t need to read Mosher’s personal philosophy on everything, regardless of how much he feels it’s necessary so that I can understand his “art” in the proper “context.”

I like to know about an artist’s philosophy as much as the next music lover. Such knowledge does provide valuable insight into their work. But when it requires a tome to explain it, you’ve gone too far. To be honest, it feels insulting, as if the album’s concept is so far beyond the grasp of mere mortals like myself that I need a user’s manual (complete with smarmy, self-deprecating humor). I don’t need or want everything to be spelled out so that I can enjoy an album. Virtuality is as heavy-handed as it is byzantine, and never becomes as compelling as it tries so hard to be, regardless of what you file it under.

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