Release Date: Jun 23, 2015
Record label: Kompakt
Genre(s): Electronic, Techno, Experimental Techno, Ambient Techno
A decade after they delivered Okie Dokie It's the Orb on Kompakt on...Kompakt, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann return to the stalwart Cologne label with an album bearing a less sportive title and it sounds like serious sci-fi business. The standard edition consists of four tracks, each one between nine and 15 minutes in length. Not one of them is humorously titled "Captain Korma" or "Komplikation," unless "God's Mirrorball" triggers a recollection of the first Tad album.
The Orb have a sense of humor, all right. Prior to the release of Moonbuilding 2703 AD, the one and only album they recorded for the Kompakt label was cheekily named Okie Dokie It’s the Orb on Kompakt. Ten years on, Alex Patterson and Thomas Fehlmann are back on the German label, kicking off their new lunar adventure with the following sound bite: “First, God does not exist.
The Orb could probably have made Moonbuilding 2703 AD, their 13th album, at any time in their 27-year career. But it has a back-to-first-principles feel to it – not surprising, since Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann are working without collaborators after a series of albums featuring the likes of Lee “Scratch” Perry, Youth and David Gilmour. Opening track God’s Mirrorball quickly establishes that the Orb’s talent for arch ambient techno is undimmed.
Approaching 28 years in the game, and on their sixth incarnation as a band, The Orb make a welcome return with Moonbuilding 2703 AD - their first original album for quite some time, not counting the collaborations, best ofs and remix albums that have endlessly churned from Orb HQ over the past few years. More than just a re-tread of old ground, thankfully Moonbuilding… finds the duo, currently comprised of Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann, in fine form - over four lengthy (what else?!) tracks, they manage to distil that classic Orb sound, but also give it a bit of extra purpose, more focus and a nicely taut production sheen to boot. Despite legal wrangles over credits and label affairs, a bitter fallout with past member Kris Weston (who blasted Paterson, former production colleagues and others in a massive rant last year) and other such troubles, the album remains a strangely perky affair.
Not long ago, the early 90s era that birthed The Orb’s ambient techno sound was regarded as sooo outdated by hipsters unlearning the recent past and favouring ever-more obscure sounds as their new blueprints. Strains of ambient music have noticeably been back en masse recently though, so it is nice to see Paterson and Fehlmann gravitating again towards long-form pieces. It’s where they demonstrate their skills for creating modern psychedelia, whereas some of their briefer, denser work of recent times has moulded The Orb into shapes they don’t really fit.
Considering they've become a byword for chill-out, The Orb have had a pretty turbulent ride: the band who soundtracked so many soppy hugs with "Little Fluffy Clouds" were bedeviled by record company skulduggery and acrimonious break-ups throughout their 25-year career. And if the lineup surrounding Alex Paterson has been inconsistent, so has its output. The first History Of The Future retrospective in 2013 reminded us exactly why The Orb were so beloved in the '90s; last year's second installment, however, fell foul of the law of diminishing returns by reiterating those tongue-in-cheek samples and meandering synths a few too many times going into the 2000s.
The Orb have been prolific of late, releasing four LPs over the past six years. But what makes this artistic stretch so fascinating is just how eclectic and resourceful the electro-ambient duo have become. After releasing albums with David Gilmour, Youth and Lee "Scratch" Perry, Moonbuilding 2073 AD is the Orb's first album of non-collaborative work since 2009's Baghdad Batteries.
With Moonbuilding 2703 AD, the Orb makes a full circle back to the long-form conceptual terrain of 1991's game-changing Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and its follow-up, U.F.Orb. The album sustains a progressive composition over four distinct parts, forgoing instant gratification for slow builds and subtle variations, culminating in the Orb's most cohesive work in ages. The album also marks the group's return to Kompakt Records.
Through most of the 1990s, Dr. Alex Paterson and the Orb had an air of slackness that belied their industriousness. Patterson and a rotating cast of cohorts—including members of the KLF, Public Image Ltd., and Killing Joke—made their name and reputation on diaphanous ambient house tracks that stretched on for up to 40 minutes. The project brought to mind weed smoke and chewed mushrooms, but the Orb also cranked out a ton of music.
This is not an album to simply commute to work to. This album demands to be experienced at full blast in a planetarium alongside a weeping Matthew McConaughey, the wonders of the cosmos filling your senses as Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlman once again map out a sonic journey to the stars. It's been a while since house music's own Pink Floyd produced a record devoid of collaborators (their last pure release was 2009's oddity Baghdad Batteries, before a spate of guest albums featuring Lee 'Scratch' Perry and, fittingly, David Gilmour), but Moonbuilding 2703 AD sees them retreating back into their own strange little ambient world.
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