I love watching artists evolve. When I first met Mobley in 2016, he was a bubbling-under one man pop powerhouse. Exuding charm, charisma, and musical chops to spare, Mobley turned a rain-soaked Spiderhouse anniversary show into a mad dance party.
Five years later, Mobley has grown from man with the music to man with a message. Philanthropist, activist, and social commentator, this dynamic artist is using his influence and talents to not only create gorgeous music but say something meaningful with it. And his latest six-song opus, “Young & Dying in the Occident Supreme,” is the next evolution for one of Austin’s brightest stars.
What is an Occident and Why You Should Care
With his latest record, Mobley has crafted a six-song statement piece focused on the trials and troubles of yesterday and today. Written over the space of a few weeks while on vacation in Thailand in 2018, Mobley found inspiration through separation. For example, when American news outlets would report on family separations on the Southern border with an almost wishy-washy banality, foreign stations would be brutally honest and direct. Seeing our everyday life through the eyes of an outsider was the thunderbolt that sparked the Occident project.
“Being in an environment where, at least in terms of what was happening here, there was some moral clarity in the way people were taking about American issues. That was very inspiring,” shared Mobley.
Over the course of 2019, Mobley refined and produced the material with the intention of a 2020 release. When COVID-19 came knocking in March of last year and ground the music industry to a halt, Mobley choose to push the release until 2021. Luckily, the year delay hasn’t made made the material stale. Two years later, the musical themes punch even harder.
Oh, and the name? It’s a direct statement on how everyday people find themselves victims of hatred, disease, and pain whilst living in the one of the most powerful and opulent countries the world’s ever known. And you should care because these heavy themes are wrapped in a delectable musical candy shell that’s too good to ignore.
Six Songs, Six Themes, One Voice
The EP opens with “You Are Not the Hero of This Story.” an ominous spoken-word piece that grows into a Morricone-like spaghetti western anthem. As an opening stanza to the balance of the EP, it’s a stellar bit of scene-setting.
What follows is my favorite song of the year, “James Crow.” A pumped-up dance jam with a killer sing-a-long hook, the track uses its pop sensibilities to sugarcoat dark, tragic subject matter. It creates the sort of delightful cognitive dissonance I’m always here for: Why am I having so much fun listening to a song that’s so sad? Turns out, creating that mental tug of war was intentional.
“The goal was to create this easy to remember chorus because I wanted to have the experience of playing this to a crowd, having people sing along to it, and have them say, ‘Ooooh, what am I saying?'” shared Mobley. “This one’s definitely a Trojan horse.”
And none of this should be surprising. A casual glance at Mobley’s Twitter feed shows him to be an outspoken proponent of social causes like Black Lives Matter along with artists’ causes like the Austin Music Commission. Digging a cheery song about the evils of systemic racism lives right in Mobley’s wheelhouse.
The third track and first single, “Nobody’s Favorite,” takes us into the record’s second act with a sound closer to Mobley’s earlier work. Punchy vocals atop an urgent mid-tempo drum pulse give way to a soaring climax with all of the musical bells and whistles fans expect. And it tells a tale of loneliness and sadness from a singular perspective.
“That one’s just about Donald Trump. Straight up. It’s actually written from his perspective,” shared Mobley. “I’m not sure how I got there, but I thought about how sad it would be to realize I’m nobody’s favorite person. So it became his internal monologue on how he’s nobody’s favorite. Throughout you get lots of disillusionment, disjointed thinking, sacrilege. Just tried to write a song from his perspective in an unexpected way.”
The fourth track, “Dreams of an Empire,” is a spacey, haze-laden dream jam dense with themes of American exceptionalism while “Mate” celebrates love in a heady whisper that feels like new infatuation as much as Mobley expresses it. The pair work as a natural third act. “Empire” paints the problem and “Mate” presents the solution. Love thwarting the pain, cynicism, and prejudices posited by the balance of the record.
The album concludes with “Lost Boys / Occidental Death,” a defiant declaration of victory in the face of oppression. “Lost Boys” is a snarky, biting, and undeniably catchy middle finger while the following “Occidental Death” bookends the opening track with subtle, quiet grace.
A Trans-Media Event and a Unique Tour
But if you’ve experienced a Mobley live performance, you know music is only one piece of the puzzle. Half “Occident” released with a 15-minute short film that tells the story of two people’s pursuit of a mysterious briefcase and the ominous red light inside. Beautifully shot and executed, the film adds new context to the EP along with a different dynamic. It’s one thing to dance in your living room to James Crow. It’s quite another to watch Mobley and his fem fatale coconspirator execute a one-shot heist to it.
With COVID-19 continuing to pump the breaks on live music, Mobley is taking his dynamic live show on the virtual road. Enter “Devil in a Daydream,” a series of nine ticketed livestreams broadcast over the course of two weeks from stages and spaces across the country. After the broadcast, the show will stay available for two weeks before vanishing into thin air. Starting February 25th with a record release show here in Austin and concluding on March 12th in San Francisco, this is as close to a real tour as you can get.
And while tickets are “pay what you can” starting at $5, we encourage you to spend what you can. 100% of Mobley’s share of the tour’s proceeds are going to the DAWA Fund, a COVID-19 relief effort for people of color in the music, art, service, healthcare, and social work careers and industries. Just another example of Mobley’s continuing dedication to causes both local and abroad.
Growth, Honesty, and Quality
As I said in the open, it’s cool as hell to watch an artist grow. As people change, artists evolve in response. And while many choose to stick to the tried and true, Mobley dared to go deeper with his latest effort in an era where the subject matter needs to be said.
“I wish that times were such where people could say, ‘he’s singing about the bad old days,’ but unfortunately that’s not the world we live in,” shared Mobley. “I’m grateful that if the times are going to be what they are, I have a piece of art that can speak to it and hopefully provide clarity or solace to people.”
Luckily, every track on “Young & Dying in the Occident Supreme” is flavored like bubblegum medicine. Important topics and occasionally scathing commentary disguised as bouncy head bobbers and dance jams. It’s a tough trick to pull but Mobley pulls it off with style, honesty, and slamming tunes. Add to the mix the visual elements that have marked his career since I first saw him on that rain slicked stage, and you have an event worth experiencing and celebrating.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Have you listened to Mobley’s latest record? If so, what’s your favorite track?