The Orb - COW/Chill Out, World!

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:7 Release Date:2016-10-15

Alex Patterson, recording as The Orb, is pretty much considered ambient royalty. As one of the earliest progenitors of chill out (along with the groups like The KLF), he set the stage with seminal releases like The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and U.F. Orb. And now, more than two decades after getting the ball rolling, he's back with COW/Chill Out, World!, an album that eases off on a lot of the wackier and more percussive directions he's gone in recent years and brings the music back to its ambient roots.

The album opens with 'The 10 Sultans of Rudyard (Moo Moo Mix)', full of chirping birds and vocal samples, a few piano chords, and the gentlest of tinkling synths. It's followed up by what I consider to be the most "proper" Orb track, 'First, Consider The Lillys', which feels straight off U.F.Orb with its powering-up intro and big, spacious pads layered with strings, then passage through different "zones" of sound. The album's title seems a clear reference to The KLF's first album, Chill Out, and in places like this song, it sounds much like that as well, giving off a midnight drive through empty countryside vibe rather than the drifting through outer space style the band is more commonly known for. I think the constant use of crickets in what feels like half the tracks aids in that perception.

One of the odd things about this album is its brevity: a mere forty-three minutes. That's about half the size I'm used to with Orb albums, and in a way, it detracts from the experience, giving it much less of the vast, spacious, feeling of a long journey into the neurosphere many ambient works aim for. And most of the tracks are extremely short too, such as the two-minute-long '7 Oaks', which has little orchestral stabs and a micro groove that sounds a bit like Prefuse 73. 'Sire 33(Orphee Mirror)' clocks in under three minutes, and has a ton of potential, with slowly drifting icebergs of sound bobbing on an ocean of pads, but gives up just when things are getting interesting.

The centerpiece of the album is almost certainly '4am Exhale (Chill Out, World!)', which begins as a cloud of vague ambience before resolving itself into a creaky little groove, with a warbling, vinyl-textured melody crooning over lightly brushed hi hats and some jazzy finger snaps. But it dissolves back into interstitial tissues after only a few minutes, again failing to develop into something truly epic. It fades into the alluring '5th Dimensions', another highlight that reminds me of The Avalanches more delicate moments.

It's hard to form a firm opinion on this album. On the one hand, there's nothing particularly bad about it. The music is decent, and it features enough familiar Orb flourishes to satisfy long-time fans while also adding a few new tricks to the pot. But it's just not ambitious enough, or interested in exploring its depths, to be all that remarkable. So it still falls short of their earliest albums, which the band continually struggles to match.

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