The Orb are probably best remembered for their work in the early 90s. Their first two albums, ‘The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld’ and ‘U.F.Orb’, are both viewed as seminal and important albums in ambient music and some of the earliest works in the ambient house scene and they are albums that have gone on to influence many artists across a range of genres since. They have kept up with their output steadily over the last 25 years, albeit with an ever-changing line-up with Dr. Alex Patterson recruiting a multitude of producers through the years and they have released a significant number of albums over this time, collaborating with a crowd of artists on some such as Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Killing Joke’s Youth and Dub legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. There have been some decent enough albums in this time but they were always lacking something, the special thing that made the early albums so great, but with the new album ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’, The Orb look like they’ve got that something back.
‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ is probably best described as an abstract concept album, and as the title suggests, space is the main theme. Paterson has stated that the listener can project their ideas on to the album. Is the Moonbuilding project a project in building on the moon, or for building a whole new moon altogether? This is for the listener to decide. These references to space throughout the album help to transport us back to The Orb’s early albums where space was very much the interest to them, but it is not just the ‘theme’ that shares similarities, musically speaking, ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ is the closest The Orb have sounded to the Kris ‘Thrash’ Weston era of the group, arguably the era in which they were the most pioneering. It is the return to the ambient that is most striking, with long tracks that evolve over their long runtimes, the album harks back to earlier tracks like ‘O.O.B.E’ and ‘Blue Room’, songs that grow and develop and have plenty of time to explore a range of vibes.
‘God’s Mirrorball’ gets the album underway and from the get go we are witness to some comedy. The Orb are no stranger to a bit of humour, having famously played a game of chess on Britain’s Top of the Pops in 1992 whilst their song played in the background, so it’s always nice to see they’ve still got their funny bone in check. ‘God’s Mirrorball’ opens with the statement, ‘First God does not exist. But don’t worry, what does exist is good as apposed to evil’, something rather deep and philosophical, a theory of good and evil, thought provoking, but The Orb being the jokers that they are, the sample closes on the rather blunt ‘if you believe in evil, then you probably need a whack on the back of the head with a big fucking stick’. For me it acts like an icebreaker, letting us know that we should head into the album looking for a little bit of fun and to not take it all so seriously, just lay back and enjoy it. Then for the next 12 minutes, the song builds up and down several times with the main beat not coming in until around 5 minutes in, and with each build there is something new happening to keep your ears interested as the song evolves more and more.
‘Moon Scapes 2703 BC’ is another long track at over 14 minutes, and again it is this length that allows the song to make its full effect, it builds and it builds, and even after several listens I still hear new little sounds and samples that give the song such character and add little bits of fun and excitement throughout. As you listen to the song it feels like you don’t notice the changes that occur throughout, as they do so smoothly, but if you are to listen to two parts of the song separately you really start to notice how much really goes on throughout and how many segments there are to it.
It feels odd to say given it is still nine minutes long, but the third track ‘Lunar Caves’ is the shortest of the lot. It is probably the song that gives the ‘spaciest’ feeling, an ethereal and abstract track that has a lot of space between all of its parts, glassy blips and blops and mechanical beeping come and go with crackly beats and wobbing deep bass lines; it feels like the musical equivalent of watching a grown up edition of The Clangers as they go about their daily nine to five.
Title track ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ closes off the album and it is quite a different affair altogether. If the album was to soundtrack a space venture to the moon to set up a nightclub, this is the song that would be soundtracking the opening night. It’s a funky and jazzy number and an interesting track that comes completely out of the blue. There are still remnants of the earlier songs, expansiveness, exploration, ups and downs and airy samples, but it is noticeable what is new, the sweeping bass lines, the jazzy drum beat and just an overall soulfulness throughout.
Overall ‘Moonbuilding 2703 AD’ is an exciting, interesting and immersive album, and it’s an album that never takes itself too seriously. It is a real throwback to The Orb’s origins, with the space themes, long techno dub songs, weird and wonderful sampling, it’s got everything that you’d expect from an Orb album, many things that just seemed to have been missing from some of their more recent releases. The current duo of Dr. Alex Patterson and Thomas Fehlmann (a longstanding combination) have really hit a high with this release and I’m excited to see what will be in the next chapter for The Orb and where they take it from here.