“Moonbeam Levels,” the first official posthumous release from Prince’s legendary and reportedly vast vault, has landed. The clip below shows a handful of Prince enthusiasts in New York’s Cutting Room Studios hearing the pristine, officially sanctioned version of the track for the first time. However, as one fan points out in the ensuing discussion after the track rolls, “Moonbeam Levels” is a song most Prince fans with any depth of knowledge about his unreleased material are already familiar with. The song has circulated on bootlegs for decades.
“Moonbeam Levels” dates back to 1982, when it was originally recorded during the 1999 album sessions. It was reconsidered for inclusion on the abandoned Rave Unto The Joy Fantastic album in the late ‘80s (not to be confused with 1999's officially released Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic album) but only saw the light of day via the aforementioned bootlegging and sporadic (and partial) live renditions via Prince. Like much of Prince’s early ‘80s output, it’s built on LinnDrumm percussion, though the chorus has the regal pomp Prince would revisit years later in “Diamonds & Pearls” (it also has a twist of the raw and energized balladry of “Crucial,” to my ears).
“Moonbeam Levels” is the sole previously unreleased track on the new Prince best-of comp, Prince 4ever, which is out today. A deluxe edition of Purple Rain with previously unreleased tracks is expected next year—rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about how nice it would be to have an immaculate version of “Electric Intercourse.” Fingers crossed.
This marks the first time Prince’s legendary vault, which reportedly contains “thousands of hours of unheard live and studio material—jams, random songs and entire albums,” has been cracked open for the public since his death on April 21. Collaborator Brent Fischer said earlier this year that the vault contains “literally enough material for dozens of albums.” As a fan, this is an exciting, hallucinatory prospect: Just like that, we could be hearing with regularity what is, for our purposes, new music from Prince in his sonic prime, should his litigious estate figure out a way to make that a reality.
When Prince died, YouTube was flooded with material that he worked hard to suppress the electronic distribution of when he was alive—music videos, full concerts, rare TV movies. That combined with the prospect of new old music from Prince signaled a rebirth in his death. When Prince was here, it was to tell us there was something else: the afterworld. And now, we get to see what that looks like.