The Orb constructs a chill-out world
Adrian Mark Lore | Monday, November 7, 2016
The London-based ambient house duo The Orb inhabits its own self-contained musical universe, blissfully ignorant of the stylistic shifts and trends occurring in the world around it. Fortunate for the celebrated brainchild of Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann, this is its greatest strength.
Earlier in the year, the duo released a brief EP that channeled the crisp aesthetic of the snowy Alpine range. Titled “Alpine,” the record is a house medley that flows seamlessly, challenging those who argue that the album format is obsolete. In this regard, The Orb has thankfully failed to read the signs of the times. Indeed, the duo’s latest album — the oddly titled “COW / Chill Out, World!” — is even more cohesive than its predecessor, the divisions between tracks mostly arbitrary — the whole more of the evolution than the collection of several discretely defined tracks.
In sharp contrast to “Alpine,” this record turns down the kick drum, opting for more carefully engineered atmospheres over the former’s dance floor sensibilities. Unlike the most insipid of ambient records, “COW / Chill Out, World!” takes an organic approach to craft and is not bogged down by superfluous perfectionism. The record was produced over a mere five sessions and incorporates a hefty dose of field recordings, which contributes to its idyllic pastoral sound.
While peaceful moments throughout the album — instants decorated with smatterings of matutinal chirping and nostalgic radio clips — recall the spiritual origins of ambient music, much of the record is underpinned by a compelling miasma of tension. There is a dark dimension to “Siren 33 (Orphee Mirror)” and “Wireless MK2,” while the remnants of glassy jazz pumping through “7 Oaks” paint wistful portraits of earlier times.
The record is tastefully kinetic and textured, subverting the notion that ambient music ought to sit still; addictive grooves break out on several tracks, notably throughout the nomadic core of the opening cut. Perhaps most breathtaking are the thick, buzzing rhythms on “4am Exhale (Chill Out, World!)” and the droning haze that follows on “5th Dimensions,” both of which recall the vaporous spaces of so-called “pop ambient” music, pioneered by Kompakt founder Wolfgang Voigt. Similarly, the crystalline beauty of “9 elms over river eno (channel 9)” and closing track “The 10 Sultans of Rudyard (Moo Moo Mix)” are reminiscent of the dynamic world-building of the duo’s debut, “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld.”
Indeed, “COW / Chill Out, World!” is a synthesis of everything that has allowed The Orb — and ambient music as a whole, for that matter — to make such a great impression on electronic music. The record is both a return to form and a product of starry-eyed imagination and innovation. There are no lead singles slated for success, to be sure, nor is this record an award waiting to happen. There is certainly no crowd-pleasing involved. Above all, this is the product of two gifted musicians doing what they have always done best.
Given the record’s bucolic sensibilities, it seems clear that The Orb is quite in tune with its surroundings; the duo is subverts the dogma of arbitrary, pragmatic industry standards. Strict adherence kills innovation, the duo would argue; the free market makes money, not art, after all. Besides, a keen awareness of the natural world is what maintains The Orb’s uniquely fresh sound. It is what blossoms on the duo’s 16th studio album into a living, breathing tableau that is worthy of their revolutionary debut.
Artist: The Orb
Album: “COW / Chill Out, World!”
Track: “4am Exhale (Chill Out, World!)”
If you like: Brian Eno, The Field, Wolfgang Voigt