Moonbuilding 2703 AD
Even the first look at the tracklist itself must have resulted in a sigh of relief: The Orb return to longform tracks, they really ramble and rant on as they did in the 90’s, whether masterpieces such as U.F.Orb (1992), Orbus Terrarum (1995) or the always underestimated but ever-beautiful Pomme Fritz (1994) are served as the dish of the day. Turns out that head honcho Alex Paterson and longtime collaborator and eventual full-time band member Thomas Fehlmann have pondered carefully and given in to one of the fanbase’s most uttered wishes, and that is a return to longer, purposely wandering and diffusing epitomes. The length alone doesn’t make a track, but it’s a pleasant addendum to the anticipation for sure. And now that the second wish of their fans, namely the inclusion of weird spoken word sample material and Plunderphonics – is granted at the same time, the latest work Moonbuilding 2703 AD, released in June 2015 on Cologne’s KOMPAKT Records is a sight to behold: four tracks, ranging from 9+ till 14+ minutes, celebrate mankind’s obsession with moons, whether it is their mere existence, their studied anatomy or their capturing and control in the future. The Orb take us on a journey through Ambient, Dub and Detroit-based fields. Expectedly dark, with diaphanous dioramas aplenty regardless, here is a closer look at the band’s most important work in recent years.
“First, God does not exist. But don’t worry, what does exist is good.” The opening statement of the opener God’s Mirrorball is most certainly good enough for every fan of the band and marks a return to form in terms of audacity and cheeky brevity, especially so when the announcer ends his statement as follows: “If you believe in evil, then you probably need a whack on the back of the neck with a big fucking stick.” That’s prototypical Orb sample material indeed, a human(e) touch that has been amiss for the last decade or so. It turns out that the – admittedly pseudo-intellectual – bridge to the 1992 opening masterpiece O.O.B.E. is built lecture-wise, but the soundscape of almost 15 minutes knows to enchant with its fluvio-lacustrine flow as well: the five-note synth string complexion unites with a granular whitewashed subzero haze and morphogenetic laser pulses. A Dub-infested bassline sets in. Thomas Fehlmann’s trademark punctilio gyres around the barycenter. God’s Mirrorball celebrates its transfigured existence in gelid surroundings, its hieratic fibroblasts remain translucent guardians in an otherwise ogival-orographic landscape of recondite nullspaces. Even as the endpoint becomes slightly more tribal and archaic, a nod to the things to come, God’s Mirrorball has become full circle within its own track-related realm and sets the lunar seeds for the album to grow.
Moon Scapes 2703 BC meanwhile functions as the antediluvian, moss-covered and retrogressive longform piece that leads the listening mankind back to the pre-Tartarean past of moony nascency all across the known universe. As such, the subsequent sparkler almost equals the length of the opener but appears even longer due to a quicker buildup and more fortuitous succession of stalagmite-evoking scythes, rolling four-to-the-floor epistemologies, glissando fusillades of verglas marimbas and a particularly granulative helix of rotoscoping dark matter fermions that protrude the moon-based megafauna more often than not. It is hard to pinpoint the overall mood of Moon Scapes 2703 BC, what with its stable beat but shapeshifting ornaments and arabesques, but candor and magnanimity shimmer through the hibernal hypanthium quite often. Even water pumps enter the mephitic scenery at one point, light and hatched gamut meet, mesh and depart. More of a paraquat than colchicine, the circumambience lightens up at the end when polyphonous bursts and post-Disco saprotrophs rev up the organic layers, ultimately making Moon Scapes 2703 BC a centriole of cenobitism.
The 9+ minutes of Lunar Caves are either the best thing The Orb have done in a long time or nothing more than a centered appendix, depending on one’s viewpoint regarding Ambient. “Viewers are advised to make their judgment based on all available information” isn’t just a coincidental sign of life in this prolonged phytolith but a portentous adage encapsulating the things to come. While this third track is based on glowing glints and wider synth streamlets, an attached rhythm with washed out lo-freq muons softly guides the traveling subject through the cavernous halls, augmenting the still life with a sense of movement and progress. Fittingly lacunar and hollow, Lunar Caves is one large ventricle filled with coruscating triangles, transmission crackles and AM radio frequency washes. It’s 1991 again, but the year is dropped into a technocratic thiazide, its plasticizing paraphyletic topiary carving out the cold surfaces of the superresonances and surfactants. As is the case with the whole album, it isn’t until the last quarter of the song until elation takes place, here in the shape of aqueous harps and the swinging macronutrients of cytoplasmatic slides. To Ambient lovers who favor a wealth of textures, this is the song to pick, the many antra, holes and crevasses notwithstanding.
The finale rolls along with Moonbuilding 2703 AD, the album’s title track and unsurprising mirroring entity to Moon Scapes 2703 BC. Now that Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann are clearly in the void, the sentiment all of a sudden becomes much more retro-futuristic, almost benign and common. Here, for a change, the listener feels hued in a warm thermal stokehold cloudlets right from the get-go: the accelerated Trip-Hop beat sees its placenta attached to the 90’s (the 1990’s, that is), the omnipresent blebs and vesicles bubble around a sweeping high-chroma fovea of municipal bars, cryovolcanic oxidants and violent flaring. The rhythm shifts while the ornamental microlensing is reduced to a focus on macula and Detroit-y depth. This is clearly the most club-compatible track in terms of accessibility, considering the wahwah-fied guitar gauze and proselytizing periglacial granuloma of the reduced but ultramafic melodies that come along, evaporate and leave room for various planetesimals. The warmest track due to its recognizable styles and nods toward various genres and their stylistic peculiarities, Moonbuilding 2703 AD (the title track) is either a cesspool or a zoetropic zest that lets the astronaut touch the ground ever so gently. One thing is for sure: the futuristic pizzazz of the title is mocked and ridiculed by the attached soundscape.
Moonbuilding 2703 AD is The Orb’s return to form if the 90’s raver and chillout connoisseur is willed to absorb the cutting-edge of the band’s Kompakt heritage and inject it into the fond memorabilia of the mind, the open fields, bucolic Brixton polymers, Woodstock ‘94 veils and amphitheater pyroxenes. For starters, it is incredibly satisfying to actually find tracks that resemble the combo’s long, polyfaceted multiplexes of the early 90’s rather than the Pop- or Jungle-oriented cuts and slices of the later stages. The Orb always embraced satellite members, kaleidoscopic collaborations and incidental meetings (Robbie Williams anyone? No?), but it is only now that the two cornerstones and principal entities Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann succumb to the sense of adventure by taking the time to come up with true longform tracks. Sure, the twirling phoresy comprises a sense of arbitrariness, a track’s epigenetic pectin is often adaxial in lieu of anticipatory, but Moonbuilding 2703 AD has that fitting flow, with all of its constituents and elements firmly in place. Even in the creepier phases – and there are several in each of the tracks – there is a human element embroidered, with the final segue or vignette usually opening up a rift into mutual amicability, the same feat all the definite classics of the band managed to maintain even if the textures and surfaces were apocryphal and plethoric. Thank you guys for trying, you’ve certainly created a soulful perapsis.
Further listening and reading:
- You can purchase and stream Moonbuilding 2703 AD at Kompakt.fm or get it on the various streaming platforms and music stores.
- Band and label on Twitter: @Orbinfo @KOMPAKTREC
Ambient Review 442: The Orb – Moonbuilding 2703 AD (2015). Originally published on Jul. 15, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.