Wonderfully poignant and supremely catchy project from lyrically focused house duo
In 2011, former high school acquaintances Tom Howie and Jimmy Vallance crossed paths in a Lowe’s parking lot in New York City. After catching up and reminiscing about their shared love of grunge and electronic music, they formed electronic duo Bob Moses, and six years later, their track “Tearing Me Up” was up for two Grammy nods. The song is exemplary of Howie and Vallance’s brand of house music: outrageously catchy, yet dark, brooding and substantive. On the duo’s most recent release, 2020’s Desire, Bob Moses stick to their guns. The duo craft a deep, sultry and supremely groovy house album that, while not particularly adventurous, will be sure to hypnotize clubbers and casual electronic fans alike.
From top to bottom, Desire commands attention. While Howie and Vallance work strictly within the confines of the house genre, their production and mixing capabilities ensure that there’s never a boring moment on the project. Infectious hooks, percussion breakdowns and instrumental variation are endemic to each track. And when combined with Bob Moses’ penchant for sneakily poignant lyricism, it’s a cocktail that’ll entice just about any house fan.
At its core, Desire is about the emotional complexities that can galvanize a relationship and distort the needs and wants of its participants. Across the project, Howie and Vallance are frustrated and lamentful. Take for example, opening track “Love We Found,” a cerebral and melancholic dance cut on which Bob Moses recount the dissolution of a romance and the yearning to atone for past transgressions. It’s a surprisingly vulnerable track, full of stunning harmonies and emotive vocalization from the duo. Once more, Howie and Vallance are constantly playing around with the mix (based around somber piano chords, a jiving sub bass and some understated percussion), building it up, breaking it down and switching it up to keep the listener on their toes.
“The Blame” is a nice thematic counterpart to that opening track, again ruminating on missteps in a relationship. But here, Howie and Vallance seem to be more frustrated than morose. The mix is carried by a subdued beeping riff, distorted to sound almost as if the notes are being played underwater. That riff is joined sporadically by ghostly synths, a powerful electric guitar and driving percussion as Bob Moses again keep the mix balanced and varied while also signaling a tonal shift by way of some more dissonant, haunting chords.
An outro consisting of techno synths and dreamy keyboard hits then flows cleanly into the titular track “Desire” featuring Zhu. It’s easily the most club-ready cut on the record, combining thrilling buildups and minimalist instrumentation with notes of darkness and yearning as Bob Moses sing about being trapped in a relationship that’s destined to fail. A driving bass synthesizer and sultry piano chords carry things forward, buoying a simple but supremely catchy and cerebral mix.
The track “Hold Me Up” feels like more of a segue than a fully fledged song. The piano chords here are brighter and sweeter, the percussion more stuttery and the lyrics more repetitive. It’s a brief patch of sunlight before Bob Moses re-enter the trees with the track “Outlier,” returning to the deep, dark sound of previous offerings as they muse about how a relationship often appears healthier on the surface than it is in actuality. The instrumental here is perhaps the most compelling on the entire project. Cowbell, shaker, cymbal and clanking spoons form a jangly percussive beat, heavily pulsing airy synthesizers play somber harmonies and a grimy techno synth handles the main riff. Howie and Vallance probably could have amped up the bass line on this one, but overall, it’s a clean, groovy arrangement that would feel at home in any underground dance club.
Things come to a close with the track “Ordinary Day,” a chillingly gorgeous song that wraps up the album both sonically and thematically. Lyrically, Bob Moses seem to finally be defeated, as they beg and plead for an ordinary day where neither they nor their partners feel hurt or broken. The mix features beautiful glowing synthesizers and a lonely-sounding electric guitar that combine to create a desolate, vulnerable mood, but the track still has plenty of pop with its choppy percussion and instrumental breakdowns. It’s about as raw and emotional as house music gets, as Howie and Vallance end things on a wonderfully pensive note while maintaining danceability.
Desire is more than just a house album. While it’s supremely catchy from start to finish, it also incorporates a cerebral aspect that separates it from much of contemporary house. Bob Moses are shooting for more than just dance club bangers. They fold dark and emotive qualities into the mix, creating a sonic and thematic richness that can be appreciated in the grimiest of clubs or in the loneliest of bedrooms.