September 3, 2012
Generally thought of as a seminal group of the ‘90s ambient house scene, The Orb have actually been surprisingly prolific over the last ten years. Various works with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Tim Bran of Dreadzone (on Metallic Spheres and The Dream respectively) throughout the ‘00s proved that Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann’s way with a collaboration hadn’t deserted them, further evidence of which comes in the shape of The Observer in the Star House alongside esoteric dub legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
The collaboration has arguably been in motion for a number of years now, since Paterson played DJ to Perry’s toaster in Mexico back in 2004 and was taken with the infamous and charming eccentricity of the dub pioneer. Eight years later, and that familiar, wiry voice and humorous flow is proclaiming “I’ve got something to say/You wanna hear it? Hear it!” over opening track ‘Ball of Fire’’s intro horns.
The Orb’s cosmic ambience and sci-fi sensibilities are a perfect match for the out-of-this-world Perry (a shared aesthetic that’s echoed in the album’s title), and references to space and its possible inhabitants are made regularly throughout. ‘Man in the Moon’ is a sparse production, a cavernous dub over which Perry explains his interstellar credentials, while ‘Hold Me Upsetter’ throws sliced guitar and string samples into the mix, the accompanying video a suitably psychedelic affair complete with galactic imagery and a Buddha holding a Chelsea FC badge.
‘Golden Clouds’ is a nod back to The Orb’s 1991 classic ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’, with the same “what were the clouds like when you were young?” question asked of Perry that was squared at Ricky Lee Jones in the original. Scratch answers in a surprisingly straightforward manner (“Blue space, white clouds/Sometimes we got rain”), before settling down into a more characteristic ramble.
‘Thirsty’ pairs an old skool hip-hop break with some echoing, offbeat dub chords, while a delightful mangling of the Perry-penned classic ‘Police & Thieves’ is a clear highlight, and perhaps the album’s most overtly dub-centric production.
Fehlmann’s techno instincts are tempered here in respect to Perry’s languid drawl, but hints of the industrial background of Berlin (where the album was made) make sporadic appearances. ‘Go Down Evil’ opens with a racing sequencer phrase, while ‘H.O.O.’ is full of the space and airiness of minimal electro.
Some of the best on moments on The Observer… occur during the mellower, more pensive tracks. ‘Soulman’ is a delight: a mid-tempo beat layered with a minor key drone, a chopped and twisted King Tubby sample coming and going underneath. Perry’s regular assertions that he is the titular “soulman” have different connotations in this context than the rhythmic grunts of the original godfather of soul, taking on a more spiritual meaning here. The hypnotic skit ‘Ashes’ seems like the sketch of an idea that unfortunately wasn’t extended to full song length, and closer ‘Congo’ is a mystical jungle dub, Perry’s filtered vocals drifting over an entrancing, percussion-heavy rhythm.
For those looking for more than veteran ambient electronica stalwarts backing up the charismatic, if slightly meandering, stream of consciousness from one of music’s great figures, disappointment was always going to be the outcome on The Observer... Yet the creativity and mutual respect on show here makes for a worthy collaboration and an intriguing listen, one worthy of a prominent place in the respective canons of both parties.
Read this review in context over at THE LINE OF BEST FIT
September 22, 2008
After dub had fully asserted its independence from father genre roots/reggae, many different styles were allowed to develop. Although it may not have been a consciously created sub-genre, the voodoo dub style is inextricably linked to reggae’s connection with African cultures. Its pioneers were also dub’s own innovators, such as legendary producers Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and Augustus Pablo.
Utilising the established techniques of dub and infusing them with haunting, psychedelic effects creates a whole new angle on the genre. Regular features include Afro-centric melodies and an accentuation of Nyahbinghi percussion.
Beginning with a cut from one of the Fathers of dub, ‘Bird in Hand’ is perhaps one of the best examples of the voodoo dub style. First released on the second of the classic ‘Super Ape’ dub sets from Perry, the haunting vocal of the track is its fascinating appeal.
Lee Perry was again the driving force behind this entrancing piece of dub, utilising phasers and filter sweeps to create a dream-like sound scape on which the vocal harmonies of roots group Zap Pow could float.
Twisting the famous Augustus Pablo track ‘Java’ in his own unique spiritual style, Studio One mainstay Cedric Im Brooks employs his own voodoo ambiance with distant vocal harmonies and insistent percussion.
Taken from a collaboration album by two of dub’s heavyweights, ‘King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown’ takes a Jacob Miller track and replaces its original sentiments with Pablo’s eerie melodica and a stripped down working of the vocal chant. Tubby’s innovations with the mixing-desk-as-instrument technique are in full effect throughout.
A humorous dub in which the listener is introduced to the instruments as they fall in and out by a vocalist of whose name I am unsure, possibly a reworking of the Lloyd Charmers track of the same name. The keyboard melodies are angular and varied over the thick rhythm section.
We end with another Lee Perry classic from the first of The Upsetters ‘Super Ape’ albums. It would be near to impossible to comment on Scratch’s perfect balance of eccentricity and genius without sounding cliched and repetitive of previous acclamation, but it is tracks such as Zion’s Blood that remind us why such praise was given in the first place.