You would have to be living on another planet if you didn’t get excited about William Orbit‘s latest album. The fifth in his ongoing Strange Cargo series which started 25 years earlier with a bizarre mix of acoustic guitar and ambient synthesiser, and continues to this day with enormous rippling synths, and heavy helpings of Laurie Mayer and Beth Orton.
Without fail, all the albums in the series open with something exceptional, and Strange Cargo 5 opens with the fantastic On Wings. Characteristically for Orbit, this is a beautifully bubbly synth-driven instrumental, which grabs you by the hair and seems as though it’s going to go on forever.
It doesn’t and the gentler Big Country follows, with an acoustic lead and soft pads, and then Just a Night or Two, a more uptempo pop-like piece which feels as though it deserves a vocal performance from one of Orbit’s many collaborators over the top.
Maybe it’s just time for some vocals, because the next song is I Paint What I See, with William Orbit‘s long-time collaborator Beth Orton. As you might expect from the team who brought you Water from a Vine Leaf back in 1993, it’s a delicious mix of spoken vocals and warm electronics, and is easily the best track on this album. It’s hard to see into the infinite with all this rain, apparently.
It’s difficult to complain when Orbit has released the album entirely for free, but he has done the old trick of squeezing a few too many tracks onto here – sixteen is definitely overkill, and there are bound to be some less exciting moments among them. NE1 is one of these, an experimental acid piece that doesn’t really go anywhere in particular.
The instrumental Large Hadron Love Collider is next, a pleasant uptempo synth track which paves the way for Lode Star, a nice but ultimately forgettable piece. This is, it seems, an album to be regarded as a whole rather than the sum of its individual parts.
The collaborations with Laurie Mayer come thick and fast by the middle of the album, starting with the lovely My Friend Morpheus, which wafts wonderfully from soft humming vocals to acoustic ripples, to synth-based explorations. Then The Diver, a haunting piece which is reminiscent of Mayer’s solo album Silver Lining, creates a perfect centrepiece to the album. Poppies is similarly dark and beautiful.
The pace picks up again with the rippling Love This Town. That’s an adjective you find yourself using a lot with William Orbit – think of the work he did with All Saints back in the 1990s and you’ll realise he’s long made a habit of it. That is not, by any means, a bad thing. Recall and Milky Way Station follow, two more very sweet tracks, and before you know it the album is nearly over.
Willow is the track that brings everything together for me. It has the acoustic lead, the soft pad chords, and the beautiful melody, which are the other key ingredients of Orbit’s musical formula. If you hadn’t realised by this point that Strange Cargo 5 is brilliant, you were probably never going to.
After that, Parade of Future Souls and The Changeling don’t really seem to add a huge amount, apart from to the general completeness of the album. It does have a couple too many tracks, but in general the fifth Strange Cargo album is every bit as good as its predecessors, and also a lot more free, so it’s well worth tracking down.
You can find MP3 and 24-bit WAV versions of Strange Cargo 5 on Soundcloud here.