The Orb (group; formed 1989)
Metallic Spheres (Columbia)
In the realm of ambient, techno, trippy dance music, The Orb are in the top five most revered artists. Led by the funny and always inventive Alex Patterson, The Orb have carved out that trippy corner of the last twenty years as ambient's version of Pink Floyd (circa Dark Side of the Moon). They have done just as much to transform dance music over the last two decades as Brian Eno did with his groundbreaking album Discreet Music and A Guy Called Gerald did in a single track "Voodoo Ray."
While releasing a few unsuccessful early EPs, The Orb finally burst on to the scene with two highly creative tracks "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld" and "Little Fluffy Clouds". Patterson's technique of more slow, cerebral, beat-friendly rhythms caught on quickly with the now dub "chill out" crowd. The Orb have always admitted to the influence of David Gilmour and Pink Floyd in their music (and artwork) so it is only fitting that finally, finally, finally the legendary guitarist and archetypal ambient group would team up to record what is without a doubt one of my favourite albums this year--Metallic Spheres.
Metallic Spheres essentially contains two very lengthy tracks roughly 20 minutes each ("Metallic" and "Spheres"). The tracks are broken into 5 suites but you really aren't going to notice that unless watch the timer on your CD player. This is a really wonderful meeting minds. The Orb grooving heavy hypnotica melds perfectly to Gilmour's dreamy and drifting guitar melodies. Gilmour adds a small bit of vocal treatment on one of the suites on Metallic which is reprised later during "Spheres." It's as if they had been working together for years. "Metallic" might be the more atmospheric of the two tracks and containing some rich, dense patterns that are very reminiscent of the Orb's earlier work.
"Spheres" starts in a heavy, dub-centric manner with Gilmour's guitar and vocal work floating in and out of the mix. Early on in "Spheres" you know this is fully an Orb project. Nice electronic movements and sampled field noise creating a very funky direction for the second half of the session. There is an infectious pounding drum and bass chorus towards the later stages of "Spheres" that provides a small bit of dance intrigue but move quickly because as bright as this moment is it is gone. From that pulsating grooves comes an orchestral denouement in the short suite "Bold Knife Trophy" that brings the proceedings to gentle end but leaving you begging for more.
Metallic Spheres feels as though there is definitely more in the studio than what we were privy to but what we have is still phenomenal. For those wanting a new Pink Floyd album--you get it--with a 21st century spin. For those wanting The Orb to return to their ambient roots--you get it--with the addition of one of their greatest influences. Metallic Spheres is a nice crowning achievement by two groundbreaking musicians. Well worth your checking out.