Mobley’s mesmerizing dance groove pulses under a menacing drone of distortion as a couple grapples with whether to stare into a light that might kill them. A warrior woman runs through a forest while Felix Pacheco entices hips with dark tropicalia. A negative filter inverts an old timey video of children at play, contextualizing nostalgia as a naive longing for a bygone world that was never what it seemed, while Sweet Spirit singer Sabrina Ellis’ voice morphs from a beseeching cry to a howl. A slow-moving instrumental from Shakey Graves evokes debilitating loneliness as a woman rides her bike through the deserted city at night.
Over 25 minutes, "A Home Unfamiliar" — a visual album featuring the work of 15 musicians and 15 filmmakers and compiled by expressive pop singer Mobley — drifts between cerebral, retro, futuristic and earthy. Emotionally, it moves from uneasiness to aggression to raw pain that will break your heart.
Watch Deborah Sengupta Stith’s interview with Mobley on Monday Music Mashup:
The album, which also features tracks from Jim Eno of Spoon, Kelsey Wilson of Wild Child, Jackie Venson and Bright Light Social Hour will premiere via Alamo On Demand, the Alamo Drafthouse’s streaming video platform, on July 17. The $4.99 rental will benefit the Central Texas Food Bank and DAWA (Diversity and Wellness in Action), a fund created by Jonathan "Chaka" Mahone from Riders Against the Storm to provide short-term assistance to people of color who are musicians, artists, social workers, teachers, healing practitioners and service industry workers experiencing life crises.
The album is an exploration of the music video as short-form filmmaking and a creative document of this strange moment in time, but "ultimately, the goal has been to use (the project) to raise money for pandemic relief efforts," Mobley said.
Before the pandemic upended life as we know it, Mobley had an EP drop and a big South by Southwest showing on the books for this spring. Isolated at home after the world shut down, he began contemplating the surrealist drawing game called exquisite corpse. In the game, a character or scene is formed as each player draws a part, then folds the paper to obscure their contribution before handing off to the next player.
"You unfold it, and you have this really strange, surreal drawing that was made through this kind of random collaborative process," he said. "I realized that I couldn't think of ever having heard that applied to music or to film, and I have a background in both of those worlds, and the prospect of doing that sounded really exciting to me."
Mobley also realized his pool of potential collaborators was much deeper than it might usually be. "Ordinarily somebody would be on the road, somebody else would be in the studio, and people would be out working on shoots," he said.
He began reaching out to musicians and filmmakers.
"My pitch to them was, basically, I want to make this visual album. And I don't want to tell you anything about what's being made except the bare minimum," he said.
Artists scrambled to sign up.
"I actually had probably four times more people interested in being part of it than I could accommodate and ended up having to kind of just randomly draw names to fill in about half the slots," he said.
In the wake of the pandemic, many creative people have been adrift.
"We are so dependent on deadlines. We're so dependent on, you know, having a certain kind of relationship with time, with the clock. And that was just kind of blown up for a lot of us where it's like, I don't have any deadlines. Nobody's waiting for me on anything. I don't even know when, when I'm going to be going back to what my old work was," Mobley said.
People seemed excited to have "a clear, discrete project that they could work on, and also having a sense that it was gonna be helpful to people who are in need during this time," he said.
The artists were given little guidance. The title "A Home Unfamiliar" was their only prompt.
For the musicians, Mobley got the ball rolling with the first song. He gave a small snippet of the end to the next musician, then continued the process down the line.
Committed to a vision of "a lot of chance and a lot of mystery, kind of guiding everything," he used a random number generator to pair filmmakers to musical pieces. Nobody knew who came after them or who came before them.
"Honestly, given how random it is, and given that everybody had a little less than 48 hours to complete their pieces from their homes, it's really really an amazing piece of art. I think it's a real testament to the creativity and talent of everybody involved," he said.
The recordings were all completed over the month of April.
"Every two days I would get a new film and a new song, and it was like Christmas every two days, opening my inbox and just getting this amazing art," Mobley said.
He was impressed with both the quality of the work and the ingenuity of the artists involved who DIY’ed their own production.
He estimates 30-40% of the tracks on the album were recorded on phones or with laptop mics. "But people didn't let that hinder their creativity or expression," he said.
He was also stunned by the speed of some of his collaborators. Rapper Deezie Brown turned around an introspective lyrical jaunt with a catchy hook that drips with syrupy Southern soul in less than 24 hours.
"I sent him the snippet of the piece before his probably at midnight on the night before his time started. And the next morning by, like, 11:15, I have an email from him," Mobley said.
Overall, Mobley couldn’t be happier with the way the project came to fruition.
"I knew it would be interesting, kind of on its face, you know?" he said. "Like, these are really talented, creative people. And even if it turned out to be terrible, it would be interesting just to see what they did."
Instead, it turned out to be amazing. "The Mars Wright song has been stuck in my head for the past month," Mobley said.
"Some of this music is some of my favorite music that I'm listening to right now."