CD Review

The Orb - "U.F.Orb"

By Marcus Pan

U.F.OrgAdmittedly, I'm a bit behind the times when it comes to the ambient-electronica style. Sure I've covered Mara's Torment when their albums just hit the streets, but with the bigger more well-known acts I'm hellishly behind. The Orb is one example, Autechre another. The album I'm reviewing here was released in 1992 - seven years previous to getting my hands on it. But that's ok. There's a lot of good music out there - sometimes it slips through your fingers. But I'm catching up…

Similar in style to Autechre's computer-driven soundscapes, The Orb are made up of Alex Peterson and Thrash. They have a therapeutic approach to the trip-hop grooves they create, melding together pieces of spoken word poetry, windy ethereal smoke, Kraftwerk computeresque keys and hip-hop grooves. They easily slip from danceable to floatable without so much as a pause, moving effortlessly into new zones of sound throughout their experimentation on a single release. Their latest release is U.F.Off: The Best Of The Orb which was put out in late November of last year ('98). For about a decade now Alex and Thrash have been aiming their aural guns at the minds of the world - trying to bring consciousness and subconsciousness together in a place where everyone can relax, get a long, smoke up and join the music on the rave floor.

What I like about the U.F.Orb CD is that it only contains seven tracks. They range in length from just over six minutes to more than seventeen and a half - to add up to a total of nearly an hour and a quarter of electronic stimulation. They usually start out slow, or at least slower than they build to, and more tones, melodies and creative samples will be laid atop each other to create a pyramid of sounds. Much of it is very beautiful in make-up and arrangement.

The CD opens with o.o.b.e, a near-thirteen minute mixture of ethereal chord progressions and windy atonal creations. A low, whispering spoken word reaches for you after the initial keyboards have ended their floating chords. A voice that speaks of subjective realities and levels of consciousness. Then the flute-like melody comes back to fly with you some more. Electrical pulses begin to build underneath the keyboard chords and the voice returns. Five minutes in it breaks up into separate entities - a synthesizer line that runs up and down the keys like children in a playground. A buzzing electrical counterpart that buzzes into you and then comes a droning half-bass half-beat rhythm - simple and melodic. But it fades away.

U.F.OrgU.F.Orb lies on track two. The shortest track on the album at 6'08", it starts again with ethereal sounds and a bright stream roiling just underneath them. A helicopter buzzes the field just above as samples speak of an impending launch and U.F.O. sightings. An alarm sounds - and the high-hat rhythm breaks in together with a simple, yet awesome bass line. The techno-like keys supplied as melodies throughout the track are mind-altering - this is a song to lose yourself in on the floor.

Blue Room not only appears on this disc, but also appears three more times on the second CD of the U.F.Orb collection - one of which is a 40 minute dub mix of the original. It's nice, but drawn out too much - 40 minutes is a bit much I think. That's almost a movie in length. I prefer the shorter seventeen minute version on the first disc. The song is a collection of subtle sounds and electronic bleeps. Wind and water, whispers and a woman. All these components and more combine into an ethereal soundscape that is well put together.

Starting with a phone conversation that, as far as I can tell, comes out of nowhere, Towers of Dub is a precisely fifteen minute track that I found to be a highlight of U.F.Orb. Animals live here, as the two that are The Orb mix in human vocalizations, barking dogs, chirping birds and visions of a waterfall at twilight into a beautiful creation of rhythms and sound. A toy piano plinks away at the strings of your soul. And then an instrument I would have never thought to hear in any form of electronica trip-hop - a harmonica. The bass line is again simple, yet amazing just the way the same in U.F.Orb was. I love this piece.

The last track I'll cover in detail, and I've covered all but two, is Majestic. This song is just over eleven minutes and lies on track six. "Wake up!" a vocal sample tells you - but then plunges you back into dream state. The effect of being told to wake up INTO a dream is mesmerizing. Female sighs throughout the rhythm-centric and brightly laid out Majestic is joined by, again, another great bass line. Alex and Thrash can groove better than almost anyone I've spun before - and I've spun quite a bit.

If you've ever been to a true rave - the warehouses that open at night, the X that covets your senses and the music that is there not to just dance your body but with your very soul through the help of inward-turning auralities and chemical intensifiers - then maybe you just might know what The Orb are trying to do. But if you haven't, and you want to be - this is about as close as you're going to get without the sweat in your eyes, bodies in your vision and DJs in your ear.

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