The Orb return to Kompakt for another ambient and psychedelic aural labyrinth
More than 25 years down the (Transcentral) line from their ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ debut, complete with the unforgettable ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, The Orb float on with their 13th studio album sounding, well, a lot like The Orb, but also a touch sharper than they have for a good while.
Working without their old mate Youth this time, ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ finds Orb mainstay Alex Paterson and his long-time collaborator Thomas Fehlman returning to the German Kompakt label and thankfully leaving behind any weak dubsteppy efforts to “get down wi dem yout’”. Instead, at least for the most part, the pair concentrate on a more genuinely ambient and psychedelic voyage to the stars.
Many of the familiar themes are present – the sampled ‘Hitchhikers Guide’-esque RP voices, squiggly shortwave radio interference, dub-paced depth-charge bass, chugging locomotive beats and blissed-out sonic curlicues – though as the record progresses something of a more contemporary feel emerges here and there. Perhaps there’s a new-found confidence in, say, the acid bent of ‘Moonscapes 2703 AD’, which comes as a pleasant surprise, albeit one that’s still safely contained within the tried and tested formula. The same goes for the subtle marimba-like exotica of ‘Lunar Caves’, which at nine minutes is the shortest track of this four-piece set.
So, yes, there’s nothing here to frighten the horses. Mid-tempo, as ever, is as lively as it gets; a pace that will suit today’s post-club lava-lampers and sofa-bound inner space explorers just as well as it did for those of yore. That said though, there may also be something too cloyingly nostalgic about several sequences, even for old hands, the funked-up Café Del Mar lounge feel of the title track in particular.
The more dub and prog-inclined devotees of what Youth generally brings to the ultraworld party – especially those who enjoyed the batty hook-ups with Lee “Scratch” Perry on 2012’s ‘The Orbserver In The Star House’ and the subsequent ‘More Tales From The Orbservatory’ – may find themselves yearning for something a little more stoned in tone. The same can probably be said for anyone surprised by the stellar turn Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour put in on 2010’s ‘Metallic Spheres’, which inevitably piqued greater interest than pretty much anything since ‘Adventures Beyond…’ and which no doubt introduced The Orb to a different audience.
‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ also comes as a deluxe vinyl version and if you go the extra mile and purchase this, you’re unlikely to feel short-changed by your additional outlay. In fact, you may well find yourself appreciating the braver bonus tracks more than anything in the core set. ‘Moon Quake 6’ delightfully samples Demis Roussos’ ‘Forever And Ever’, while ‘Dilla’s Moon Quake’ deftly introduces deconstructed hip hop beats along with edgy jazz elements. Both tracks hopefully point the way forward to a more experimental follow-up.