- In the nearly three decades the project has been around, there's been one constant factor in the ever-changing sound of The Orb: a kind of hazy, hallucinatory ambience, one that sometimes lurks in the background but more often drapes over the music like a blanket. Now, Alex Patterson, the group's one enduring member over the years, takes his predilection for vaporous atmosphere to its logical extreme with COW / Chill Out, World!, an all-ambient LP on which he teams up with past collaborator Thomas Fehlmann. Even without much in the way of low-end kick, it's the Orb-iest album in years.
Ambient music can disappear into the ether if not done properly, but Patterson and Fehlmann are both eccentric producers who have little problem avoiding that pitfall. The album was produced in only five sessions, using just a handful of sound sources—field recordings, thrift-store records, bits and pieces of live gigs and the like, all fading in and out of the mix. This approach gives COW an immediacy that ambient music often lacks. The droning minor chords of "Siren 33 (Orphee Mirror)," punctuated by arrhythmic clinks and low-frequency pulses, conjure visions of darkly foreboding oceans, while the twangy vamp of "Sex (Panoramic Sex Heal)" evokes a more tropical seaside vista. The fractured sophistication of "7 Oaks," meanwhile, is a kaleidoscopic view of a more urban environment, a cityscape as seen through cracked glass.
There's another peril associated with ambient music: gussy it up too much and it can quickly become cloying. For the most part COW stays on the right side of syrupy, though a few tracks slide dangerously close. Following an opening train-horn burst and a bit of CB-radio chatter, "9 Elms Over River Eno (Channel 9)" feels like The Orb's take on Edvard Grieg's "Morning Mood." Album closer "The 10 Sultans Of Rudyard (Moo Moo Mix)" has that most hackneyed of ambient clichés: tweeting birds. But midway through the former, pulsating horns, a gently throbbing bassline and skittering percussion lend some needed drive to the pastoral reverie, while the latter's refined elegance renders all that chirping irrelevant. COW is the sound of The Orb stripped down its essence, revealing the splendor that's always been there.
01. First, Consider The Lillys
02. Wireless Mk2
03. Siren 33 (Orphee Mirror)
04. 4am Exhale (Chill Out, World!)
05. 5th Dimensions
06. Sex (Panoramic Sex Heal)
07. 7 Oaks
08. Just Because I Really Really Luv Ya
09. 9 Elms Over River Eno (Channel 9)
10. The 10 Sultans Of Rudyard (Moo Moo Mix)