The Orb – The Dream

The Dream album cover

The Dream was released by The Orb almost a year ago in Japan and this past February in the UK, but it wasn’t until June that it received a US release.

The Orb’s last full album was Okie Dokie It’s The Orb on Kompakt, an effort spearheaded by Thomas Fehlmann in the vein of Kompakt’s distinct German microhouse. Okie Dokie was far closer to Fehlmann’s solo work than to, say, U.F.Orb or Orbus Terrarum and its not at all apparent what Orb frontman Alex Paterson adds to the mix. Still, it is a great album with a coherence that The Orb’s albums since Orblivion have lacked and with a discipline never before heard from (and, indeed, almost contradictory to) The Orb. Anyway, the main reason I bring up Okie Dokie is as juxtaposition to The Dream. With The Dream, Paterson distances himself from the unyielding minimalism of their Kompakt releases and seeks to embrace his reggae roots.

In Paterson’s youth, he and childhood friend Martin Glover were exposed to a lot of reggae music while living in Brixton (“the unofficial capital of the Jamaican, African British and Caribbean community of London”). Paterson’s reggae influence has been prominent on tracks such as Perpetual Dawn and more subtlely apparent through the basslines found in most Orb tracks. I’ve read a number of reviews of The Orb’s past work and one thing I’ve found particularly interesting is that journalists inevitably chalk up The Orb’s influences to Brian Eno (valid) and Pink Floyd (much less so). The second ingredient to The Orb’s brand of ambient house is not prog rock but the unmistakable reggae groove. As if to drive this point home, Paterson pretty much seemed to have decided to create his own reggae album and reunited with Glover for their first Orb studio work since 1992’s U.F.Orb. In addition to Glover, Paterson is joined by Tim Bran of Dreadzone and previous Orb guitarist and collaborator Steve Hillage along with a smattering of vocalists. Fehlmann is noticeably absent. Another signal that Paterson is attempting to embrace the roots of The Orb is the album cover. The simple color scheme with curved shapes evokes the album art from The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, which was created by graphic design group The Designers Republic.

The Dream
kicks off with the title track – a spacy collection of samples, guitar, and other circa early 1990s Orb business. There are actually a few classic pieces of Orbulence found on The Dream, ranging from the beatless, contempative Orbisonia to the laidback “Code” to the low key “High Noon”. None are quite as ambitious as “Terminus”, the full version of “Blue Room”, or any of Pomme Fritz. While these tracks on The Dream do emulate The Orb’s early work fairly well, they lack The Orb’s signature playful and highly original sampling which borrowed from diverse sources ranging from Woody Allen’s Sleeper (“Towers of Dub”) to Mike Leigh’s film Naked (“S.A.L.T.”) to somebody called Billy Bobtail (“Slug Dub”). Instead we have fairly standard genre clips from preachers, newscasters, and the like. It’s not bad, but its not very striking either. To my surprise, the 1998 sci-fi film Dark City is also sampled with the spoken words: “First there was darkness, then came the strangers… they called this ability tuning”. I would be fine with this, except for the fact that John Graham used this exact sample for “Space Manoeuvres Part 3” not too long ago, which throws me for a loop.

As mentioned before, there are quite a few vocalists present. The results are a bit hit-and-miss. While vocalist Juliet Roberts is a fine singer, her vocals “A Beautiful Day” are a bit out of place and I think “Mother Nature” would be better off without them as well. I am, however, appreciate of the backing vocals on “The Truth Is…” that echo the recognizable vocal melody from “Blue Room”. Before we venture any further into vocal territory, I think its necessary to point out that despite the use of singers, these tracks aren’t styled as pop songs. Most of them run about 6 minutes and don’t feature typical song structures. More often, they repeat the chorus a few times in between ambient dub meanderings. A couple of previous singers used by The Orb are back on The Dream as well. The Corpral returns from Bicycles & Tricycles to throw about his ragga chatter. He is at his most effective in “Mother Nature”, bringing his aggressive vocals over a catchy riff. I have no idea what he’s saying, but it’s good stuff nonetheless. The Corpral also collaborates with vocalist Andy Caine on the track “DDD (Dirty Disco Dub)”, which is by all means a cheesy track, but damned if you don’t get the ridiculously meaninglessly pop lyrics and melody in your head.

Aki Omori, from The Orb’s 2001 single “Once More” is back on The Dream‘s single “Vuja De”. No, “Vuja De” isn’t a great track. It’s not anywhere near as interesting or re-listenable as anything from Orbus Terrarum, but as a poppy track with well executed vocals its more than sufficient. “Vuja De” does fall into a bit of a trap that The Orb has generally avoided over the years in that its samples are a bit scattershot. Short samples appear from nowhere to be used as one-off hits (“What the hell was that?”, “Let’s get on with it”), which to me is more what groups like The Avalanches are about rather than The Orb. It just seems unrefined – I have no other reasoning than that. “Vuja De” came out with a couple of music videos animated by Katsura Moshino. I have no idea why there are two out there, but there are. The videos, which feature the “Overdose Rockin’ Bugs”, are fairly insane. In the one I prefer (below), a couple of pieces of graffiti are brough to life and become a band or something until they offend some sort of Andy Warhol facsimile named “Wandy”. He launches some sort of “War is Art” grenade at them, but they are saved by a beefy gentleman who kind of looks like Alex Paterson. The video also features the Battersea Power Station, which is always good in anything Orb. Note that the music video version is an edit that structures “Vuja De” more like a pop song by removing a lot of the playful dabbling in between choruses.

Its worth noting that the Japanese edition of The Dream has a bonus track, “Let The Music Set You Free”. Aside from the sample-laden intro, the track doesn’t sound at all Orb. The vocals and lyrics are very corny, along with the surprisingly bad rhythm section. It’s probably best that this was left as a Japan-only track.

Arbitrary song of the day: Electric Six – Nuclear War (On the Dance Floor)

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