ORB - Naturality

by Kyle Kersey Rating:6 Release Date:2017-10-06
ORB - Naturality
ORB - Naturality

The Orb is an English electronic duo known around the globe for their visually stunning live performances and popularization of ambient house, which is strange because when I saw them open up for King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard back in April, I could have sworn they were a visually stagnant psychedelic hard rock trio so quintessentially Australian that I’d expect they subsist on a diet of kangaroo meat and vegemite.

Indeed, ORB is entirely separate from the electronic music genre, though this is information that would be hard to obtain through a simple Google search. They’re elusive, something lead singer and guitarist Zak Olsen makes light of in an interview with The Music, relaying a story about someone accidentally buying an ORB album thinking it was an album by The Orb and sending the record back (contrived enough for you?). By the way, this is one of only two interviews with the band I could find, neither of which are promotional material for their sophomore release Naturality. It’s an album almost entirely without hype and, as a result, expectations.

Olsen and bassist Daff Gravolin have worked together before on different projects. Going through their back catalog unearths remnants of 1960’s British pop repackaged into bands like Hierophants and The Frowning Clouds.  Neither man gained an interest in music through the prototypical means of “listening to the greats”, but by proxy of skater flicks and their lovely punk soundtracks. Drummer Jamie Harmer didn’t really grow up with music at the forefront of his life, mostly due to the fact that both of his parents are deaf. It wasn’t until high school where his brother introduced him to hip-hop of all things.

ORB, by contrast, exhibits a strong appreciation for Black Sabbath – grinding fuzz melodies intercut with groovy drum fills – and the birth of metal. They’re not a metal band per se; instead of distorting or layering their guitars, Olsen simply uses a fuzz pedal. This makes the guitars less dense than those of the average metal outfit and, when playing riffs in drop D (a tuning closely associated with doom metal), almost indistinguishable from Gravolin's bass lines. An example of this is the track “O.R.B.”, one of my favorite cuts on the album that also happens to be one of the most Sabbathy, complete with rolling power chords and synthesizer right out of a John Carpenter flick. Olsen drenches slightly out of tune vocals in echo to complete the cultivation of ORB’s retro vibe.

The band carries over the presence of 60’s pop from past projects, only even more psychedelic this time around. Syd Barrett’s eccentric footprints are all over the songwriting, which can be a tad sophomoric at times. “You Are Right”, Naturality’s lead single riding a jumpy bassline, is hampered down by repetitive lyrical writing. The chorus, for example, is “You can face them/Tell them what you want/You do what you want”, before repeating “It’s your right”. “A Man in the Sand” is one of their lyrical highpoints, questioning the point of the war in Iraq by quite literally singing “could it be that there is not a point”. Still, the allusions to the people the war effects like “every average Jess, whose life is in a mess, cause her uncle won’t come back” are well drawn out. It’s also a track enhanced by its music video, which reminds me of a low production psychedelic version of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”.

Back to the concert performance. Over the course of their half-hour set in April, Olsen and Gravolin hardly moved, parking themselves on opposite sides of Jamie Harmer's drumkit. Aside from the occasional head bops, their body language remained completely relaxed. Needless to say, these guys are pretty mellow in nature, a quality that bleeds over into their music. For a few of my friends, this stoner-like energy was a deal breaker, but looking back on it, I think this is a positive quality. They’re not the typical Sabbath worshiping metalheads. According to Olsen, this means that they can “focus on the other things besides how fast the solos can go.” Sabbath's true sound is actually very bluesy, something that often gets lost in the mainstream metal shuffle, but not on this new ORB album.

Naturality is far from perfect but so is The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Both sound like bands experimenting to find their sound on their terms. The groundwork is there for ORB to accomplish just that in the future. All it takes is a little refinement in the arrangements...and David Gilmour as your lead guitarist. Godspeed you, ORB!

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