- Considering they've become a byword for chill-out, The Orb have had a pretty turbulent ride: the band who soundtracked so many soppy hugs with "Little Fluffy Clouds" were bedeviled by record company skulduggery and acrimonious break-ups throughout their 25-year career. And if the lineup surrounding Alex Paterson has been inconsistent, so has its output. The first History Of The Future retrospective in 2013 reminded us exactly why The Orb were so beloved in the '90s; last year's second installment, however, fell foul of the law of diminishing returns by reiterating those tongue-in-cheek samples and meandering synths a few too many times going into the 2000s. Despite odd flashes of inspiration in albums Paterson produced with Thomas Fehlmann, like 2005's Okie Dokie It's The Orb On Kompakt and 2009's Baghdad Batteries, you would have been forgiven for writing them off.
With Fehlmann aboard again for Moonbuilding 2703 AD, The Orb has produced its best album since 1992's U.F.Orb. It's also—and this is probably no coincidence—the album that arguably sounds the least like them. Sure, "God's Mirrorball" might start with a comedy spoken-word sample, but that's pretty much as wacky as it gets. The psilocybin-drenched synths and chirruping rainforest sounds of "Lunar Caves" are the closest to what you'd expect from a traditional Orb track, though it could just as well be mistaken for Future Sound Of London circa 1994's Lifeforms. On "God's Mirrorball," what could've been a stoned reggae skank—as on old tracks like "Perpetual Dawn"—is now replaced with a dub techno pulse à la DeepChord. Fehlmann and Paterson also sound tougher than we've heard before—if pitched up a bit, the heavy stomp that begins "Moon Scapes 2703 BC" could rock Berghain.
Given that The Orb's original sampledelic collages were more hip-hop than techno, it's not much of a surprise that a big influence on Moonbuilding 2703 AD is J Dilla. He even gets a tribute track on the deluxe edition, and his spiritual fingerprints can be felt on the title track, which begins with a B-boy swagger before moving into jazzier waters and peaking with some house piano. Each production here feels less like a 10-minute single than a condensed DJ set, and The Orb navigate these spaces with a fresh wind in their sails.
01. God's Mirrorball
02. Moon Scapes 2703 BC
03. Lunar Caves
04. Moonbuilding 2703 AD