Exodus, the hour-plus quasi-concept LP from NYC electro producer Alex Moulton, has already garnered a lot of attention for its cover alone (including a shout in Idolator’s “Worst Cover of the Year” race), and Moulton likes it that way. He intended it as a multimedia project. As a critical gimmick, reviewing an album without breaking the shrink-wrap is older than Richard Meltzer’s grudges. But we’ve all looked at a cover, imagined what it contained, and felt grave disappointment when the album on wax was nowhere near as interesting as what the artwork inspired in our minds.
Moulton reveres the days when albums were tangible objects, and he could listen to a record, stare at its glorious 12”x12” jacket, and direct a film in his head. Like a lot of us, he’s bought albums, sound unheard, because the art struck him. He recalls getting burned by certain ’70s records (you know the ones) with jaw-dropping sleeves hiding half-assed music. And, with Exodus, he set out to produce what he subconsciously expected the best of those jackets to sound like.
If a film or a record registers as “cheesy,” that usually means it’s failed to envelop us in its world. If it’s promised elaborate mythology, emotional intensity and epic sweep, as the fantasy/sci-fi realm always does, the stakes are high. If it’s going to be cheesy, it’s going to be painfully cheesy. The mythology surrounding Exodus is elaborate indeed – the storyline is well documented in Moulton’s mental archives, and further installments are forthcoming – and the world it creates can seem ridiculous in a lot of ways. But, like good sci-fi, it’s not just ridiculous. If you can look at this album cover and be genuinely curious about what’s inside, and if you like your retro-future-techno dense and romantic, then you can bump this record, stare at this cover and get lost in this world.
Musically, Exodus is everything a fake-movie soundtrack must be. It makes suggestions, not demands. It’s endlessly eclectic and inventive. But never intrusive. It shifts from a portentous opening theme to Tangerine Dream synth ooze to a muted club beat to a hail of percussion. Like the scores for early Warner Brothers cartoons, it ingests a world of genres and references and creates a fluid backdrop for the absurdity on screen, or, in this case, in your skull. (As far as you’re concerned, it’s always in your skull.)
If you enjoy spacey club music on its own merits, you may be able to dig Exodus without the cover. But why the hell should you?