Wants, needs, desires—even those removed from love. That’s what Bob Moses found themselves dissecting on Desire. Following up on their second full length album, 2018’s Battle Lines, and the acoustic Unplugged EP a year later, the Canadian electronic duo of Jimmy Vallance and Tom Howie unravel something more visceral and universal on Desire.
“There are obviously physical desires of substance abuse and sexual experiences, and even how we all spend so much of our time working toward something, and might become slaves to that,” says Howie. “A lot of my own frustration comes from getting trapped in a cycle of thinking when I want something in the future, then working really hard and sacrificing the present moment for that.”
In conceptualizing the album, Bob Moses dove wholly into the universality of desire, peeling back the exterior of all its pleasures and pains. “Desire can be sort of a burden,” says Vallance. “It can drive your ambition, but it can also ruin you.”
Unfurling over nocturnal and cinematic beats, Desire is a hypnotically harmonized narrative on the good, the bad, and the ugly that arise from yearning. The album’s title track, featuring DJ and producer ZHU (Steven Zhu), is a collaborative first for the duo and ended up being the anchor for the entire album.
“Desire” pierces through the desperation of longing and its ultimate rationalization with its chorus: “I don’t want your desire / I just wanna be free.” Stark blue, red, and black imagery unravels the two sides of “Desire” in the track’s video, directed by Owen Brown of creative agency CTRL5, with animation by Airplan. Using anaglyph imagery, hosted on an interactive streaming platform by EKO, viewers can choose the type of desire—pleasure or pain—they want to see with the press of a button in the interactive version of the visual. Originally, Howie and Vallance were planning a live-action video around the track, but were halted when the pandemic hit, which led them to the alternate, animated universe of “Desire.”
“The idea started as a direct result of the pandemic,” says Vallance, who says they are thinking of doing more animated visual projects around the tracks. “Tom and I had sort of pitched the imagery of this idea of Icarus, which really inspired the album artwork and the idea of the falling man—a modern take on an ancient story. We thought that it would lend itself well to the animated world and help us find a way to tell the two sides of the story.”
Opening on the contemplative, steady pulse of “Love We Found,” Desire picks up on “Blame” and keeps some levity on “Hold Me Up.” Before drifting off into epic closer “Ordinary Day,” the shadowy throb of “Outlier” reflects on how external elements can impact the perception of desire with Howie singing, “I tell you that less is more / Everything always seems fine when you look from the outside.”
“That song was really written about how people never want to show you their bad days, and only want to show you the good stuff,” says Vallance. “It’s really hard when you’re trying to connect with people and everyone is connected through technology—their phones, social media. You rarely see people suffering. We had a few friends over the past couple years that passed from suicide, and this song is kind of a testament to that, that we should be more vulnerable.”
Even though Desire was written and recorded prior to the pandemic, its concept resonates, linking to the emotions many people are feeling around isolation and overall uncertainties. “Where is the line between your mental health and you being OK, versus what’s OK and socially acceptable?” asks Vallance. “People are arguing over that right now. I think our record really ties into a lot of those sentiments.”
Vallance adds, “The music almost means more to us now, given this idea of the risk versus reward kind of a desire. Are you going to risk your health? Are you going to risk your family’s health and maybe try to do something that you want to do because you’re feeling alone and isolated? People are trying to come to terms with how to be human beings now.”
For Desire, the duo wrote the tracks entirely on the road—something they’ve never done before. Having set up at a home-base studio for their prior releases, planes, tour buses, and hotel rooms served as their work stations for fleshing out Desire, while they were still on the road supporting Battle Lines.
“This was never a planned thing. It just happened. Our intention was to write an album this year to put out next year, but this sort of just fell into our lap, which is a nice feeling, as artists.” —Jimmy Vallance
Recorded everywhere—from a studio in Budapest to New York and Los Angeles—Desire was never an intentional album. After Vallance and Howie recorded the title track with ZHU, all the pieces just naturally came together. “This was never, like, a planned thing,” says Vallance. “It just happened. Our intention was to write an album this year to put out next year, but this sort of just fell into our lap, which is a nice feeling, as artists. We always wanted to make a concept record, but that’s not something you can really plan to do. I think by planning to do it you almost ruin it from the get go.”
Self-produced by the duo, Desire was initially conceptualized as a group of tracks that could work into the duo’s DJ sets. “It’s meant to be listened to from start to finish, and we’ve always wanted to do that as well,” says Vallance. “This body of work just ended up ticking a lot of boxes that Tom and I had wanted to experiment with creatively, so it feels like an accomplishment in that sense, and quite freeing.”
Howie adds, “When you listen through, the whole is the sum of its parts. That flow is just as important to us as each individual track, and this time we really got it right.” FL