Release Date: Oct 14, 2016
Record label: Kompakt
Genre(s): Electronic, Ambient, Pop/Rock, Ambient Dub
Many of the best records are either really exciting or ahead of their time, but there’s also much to be said for an act’s ability to quietly deliver a near-perfect example of a style which they have worked on tirelessly over a long career. The Orb were right back on form with last year’s Moonbuilding 2703 AD, returning to the lengthy meditations of Alex Paterson’s prime. This collection tops that, providing probably their most cohesive and remarkable (yet deceptively kompakt) studio set since 1992’s UF Orb.
Okey dokey, now that the Orb are back on Kompakt, they’ve hit the ground running. COW / Chill Out, World! is their third release since resigning to the German label, following Moonbuilding 2703 AD and Alpine, which is not at all bad for an aging, veteran act. What makes it even better is that COW is a solid reminder that Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann together remain one of the best acts in the field of ambient electronic music.
Ambient techno legends the Orb spent much of 2016 touring the world to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their seminal debut album, The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. During their travels, they engaged in several impromptu recording sessions, piecing together field recordings captured on tour, samples from records found at thrift stores, and highlights from their gigs. The result is COW / Chill Out, World!, the most spontaneous album in the group's discography to date.
In the nearly three decades the project has been around, there's been one constant factor in the ever-changing sound of The Orb: a kind of hazy, hallucinatory ambience, one that sometimes lurks in the background but more often drapes over the music like a blanket. Now, Alex Patterson, the group's one enduring member over the years, takes his predilection for vaporous atmosphere to its logical extreme with COW / Chill Out, World!, an all-ambient LP on which he teams up with past collaborator Thomas Fehlmann. Even without much in the way of low-end kick, it's the Orb-iest album in years.
Throughout their almost three decades of existence, The Orb have seen very few consistencies. With a rotating cast of members including Jimmy Cauty, Martin Glover, Kris Weston, Andy Hughes, Simon Phillips, and Andy Falconer (in addition to regular involvement from Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann), the act has flirted with dub, Big Beat, trip-hop, and psychedelic music, all with the sort of ceaseless productivity that’s given rise to 21 full-length releases and a seemingly infinite number of singles and EPs. Throughout the era, The Orb have always felt defined by a certain frenzied entropy, jumping between aesthetics and traditions, a limitless outgrowth in all directions.
Partly responsible for ushering in the genre of 'chillout' in the early '90s, the Orb have transported their craft into the 21st century with the release of COW / Chill Out, World! In fact, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann have created their most simple, uncluttered and sparse collection of music to date. After spending the entirety of this decade as collaborators (working with David Gilmour, Lee "Scratch" Perry and the English National Opera), the London two-piece have returned to their roots for their 14th LP. Recorded in just six weeks and often using simple applications like Ableton and iPhone Music Studio, the Orb delve deep into ambient soundscapes as they abandon their dub and acid house tendencies to focus on formless melodies and natural flourishes.
In his 1995 book Ocean of Sound, David Toop talked to Dr. Alex Peterson about the music he would go onto make with the KLF’s Jimmy Cauty, the music that began chillout clubs and ambient house and eventually the Orb itself. “We’d build melodies up…we used to keep it very, very quiet,” Paterson said. “We never used to play any drums in there.
Alex Paterson and frequent collaborator Thomas Fehlmann have spent much of their career as the Orb simulating humanity in the unknown, assigning their bubbling soundscapes to subjects like space travel and alien encounters. COW / Chill Out, World! wields their trademark synths, samples, and stray noises toward a more personal end, eschewing science fiction for the comparably tangible themes of love, sex, and nature—at times even veering into the autobiographical. Whether such soul-searching is lucid in the context of the band’s distant vibrations and polyrhythms is one question.
The Orb 'COW/Chill Out, World!' (Kompakt)This year marks the silver jubilee of The Orb’s dub ambient testament ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’, an album that was as much a feature of post-rave comedowns as a packet of large Rizla. But the duo also proved their mojo was still as strong as ever with last year’s ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’, which meandered between scuttling breaks, stoned house and chill-out jams. As the title of this new LP suggests, it’s the latter that’s the foundation here.