CD Review of The Dream by The Orb
Recommended if you like
KLF, Juno Reactor, Autechre
Label
Six Degrees Records
The Orb: The Dream

Reviewed by James B. Eldred

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T
he Orb (which consists of Alex Paterson and whomever else he feels like working with at any given moment) are one of the most respected, critically lauded and commercially successful acts in the history of electronic music. These things happen when you single-handedly invent a sub-genre of music (ambient house) and release not one, but three albums (The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Underworld , U.F. Orb, Orbvilvion) that are generally considered to be the greatest examples of that genre.

But even with all that acclaim and success, they seemed to vanish off the face of the earth at the end of the century. Maybe it was because electronic music never really broke through like it was supposed to, but a more likely reason was that they just weren’t as good as they used to be, with both Cydonia and Bicycles & Tricycles landing on the receiving end of severe critical poundings.

Taking a note from the critics who were beginning to call his work derivative and boring, Paterson recruited German electronic pioneer Thomas Fehlmann and staged a minor comeback with 2005’s Okie Dokie It’s the Orb on Kompakt, a minimal techno record that stripped away everything that made the Orb both revolutionary in the early ‘90s and old hat at the dawn of the new millennium.

While the critics liked Okie Dokie, Paterson must not have been a big fan of it, because the Orb’s latest release¸ The Dream, abandons much of the minimal and experimental flavor of that album in return for ambient house beats, out-there audio samples and mellow sonic soundscapes. That may sound like a step backward, and it is, but luckily it’s a step backward to the classic Orb sound of the early ‘90s.

This time around, Paterson is working with Youth from Killing Joke, guitarist Steve Hillage, and Dreadzone’s Tim Bran. Paterson worked with Youth before, most notably on the classic “Little Fluffy Clouds,” so the expectations when these two hook up are high. Thankfully they’re met, with a few exceptions.

The Dream is very much like early Orb -- songs drift into each other and the vibe is uber-chill. It’s background music, but background music of the highest caliber. It’s next to impossible to rate individual tracks on an album as ambient as this one; the only ones that are really worth mentioning individually are the ones that don’t work in the context of the album. “Dirty Disco Dub (DDD)” is neither dirty nor disco, but it is a lame attempt at dub music. While most of The Dream is blissfully stuck in the 1995 in a charming sort of way that is more retro than dated, “DDD” would have been an embarrassing example of how not to do dub back then – so it’s even worse now. It also is a jarring experience, the reggae vocals taking the listener out of the groove established with the two tracks preceding it.

That misfire is followed by a near-miss, the slightly-annoying “The Truth Is.” Slightly annoying in that while the beats and overall feel of the track are pretty good, the vocal loop “The spirit told me to tell you” is totally out of place and just as jarring as the rap on the track that preceded it.

From that point on, though, it’s all good. The reggae-dub influence continues, with much better results, on tracks like “Mother Nature” and ‘Lost & Found,” which successfully meld together dub and ambient where “DDD” crashed and burned, and the last third of the album, from “The Forest of Lyonesse” to “Orbisonia,” are perfect throwbacks to the ambient house of yesteryear, fitting perfectly next to the strongest songs from any of the Orb’s early releases.

The Dream is a near-perfect collection of spaced-out, chilled-out beats. Now let’s hope it doesn’t take Paterson another 10 years to deliver another one of this quality.

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