Though occasionally brilliant, The Orb's latest LP too often falls short when trying to update the group's sound.
The Orb—that is, Paterson and a revolving cast—are known for a sound that hits the sweet spot between acid house, dub and ambient. Lately their music has become more streamlined, in large part due to the input of longtime affiliate Thomas Fehlmann, and its recent label home, Kompakt, who handled 2016's COW / Chill Out, World! and the previous year's Moonbuilding 2703 AD. The group's latest LP, No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds, on Cooking Vinyl, does away with that restraint in favor of a maximal, genre-hopping montage. It's all the worse for it.
Now that Fehlmann's stepped away to focus on his solo work, No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds features a gang of collaborators, led by Paterson, into the studio. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. "The End Of The End," a bombastic take on The Orb's well-trodden ambient house, features forgettable vocals from Emma Gillespie. "Rush Hill Road," featuring Hollie Cook and Brother Culture, comes off as middling reggae-tinged festival fare, the sort of thing the guy playing with devil sticks could get down to.
There are, however, a few brilliant collaborations, mostly involving legendary musicians who have a firm grasp on what makes The Orb special. "Easy On The Onions," a half-time ambient piece, mostly works thanks to Roger Eno's plaintive piano. Jah Wobble holds down the low-end on Paterson's J Dilla tribute, "Doughnuts Forever," a brief track that recalls the sweet melodic escapism of some of the group's peak '90s work. (Wobble, who played bass on The Orb's 1992 hit, Blue Room, also appears on "Pillow Fight @ Shag Mountain.")
Many of the album's other strong points look to the past. "Isle Of Horns" shows a reggae fixation Paterson has had since his teens, as did releases like Orb In Dub and their album with Lee "Scratch" Perry. The 15-minute closer, "Soul Planet," reprises the epic ambient house sound the group invented. The record's inconsistencies arise when Paterson attempts to update his sound, as on the previously mentioned vocal cuts and the hackneyed hip-hop cut, "Wolfbane," which employs vocal drops like "Smoke weed everyday" and "Damn, son" that make for a cringeworthy three-and-a-half minutes.
The group's escapist bent has been understandably riled by current events. Paterson drops politically minded samples throughout the record in an attempt at commentary. "Easy On The Onions" includes a sample grousing about "social media by algorithm." "Wolfbane" indulges Dr. Strangelove-style nuclear paranoia. The end of "Ununited States" has a campy bit about the previously aired programming being brought to us by "Soviet Krispies, the worker's breakfast food." Incisive stuff it is not. At its best, The Orb's expansive sound has made us feel calm and adrift on the dance floor. But No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds, with its stylistic and thematic missteps, too often shakes us out of this trademark groove.
Mon / 9 Jul 2018
01. The End Of The End
02. Wish I Had A Pretty Dog
03. Rush Hill Road
04. Pillow Fight @ Shag Mountain
05. Isle Of Horns
07. Other Blue Worlds
08. Doughnuts Forever
10. Easy On The Onions
11. Ununited States
12. Soul Planet