Peel Sessions – The Orb, 3 Dec 1989

Trust The Orb to do something very different with their John Peel session. You normally get about fifteen to twenty minutes of airtime, so most artists record three or four seemingly randomly-selected songs, but of course The Orb recorded just one.

They were still a couple of years away from releasing their debut album The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, but Peel had already been playing them for the previous six months or so. This was also released as a single both a couple of months before the session and again afterwards.

You would have to be something of an Orb completist to spot exactly what’s different here, but it sounds fantastic. I didn’t remember some of the vocal samples towards the end in the original, but it’s hard to remember specific parts. I also love the fact that I learned while listening to it, that it actually gets its title from a Blake’s 7 sound effects track. Genius. Well, that and the inclusion of Minnie Riperton‘s wonderfully twee Lovin’ You. This really is about as good as music gets.

Subsequent years would see another four Peel sessions for The Orb, mostly released variously on Peel Sessions (1991) and The Peel Sessions (1996), neither of which are currently available. This particular session also opens disc 3 of the special edition of the first album. You can read more about their relationship with the John Peel show here.

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The Orb – Orblivion

The Orb are always a little bit odd – it probably goes without saying – and “odd” is definitely a good term to describe their fifth album Orblivion, released in 1997. Six years on from their debut, this album actually gave them their first US hit album, and also, with Toxygene, their biggest UK hit. As it celebrates its twentieth birthday, now seems a good time to give it another listen.

It opens with the pleasant Delta Mk II, which ripples along with arpeggios for a very soft and gentle seven minutes, before it mixes almost imperceptibly into the lovely Ubiquity. Whereas preceding releases Pomme Fritz (1994) and Orbus Terrarum (1995) had been downright silly and distinctly earthbound (respectively), Orblivion saw a return to the obscure science fiction-based aural adventure of earlier releases, and this is very audible on the first couple of tracks.

The tracks move so swiftly and smoothly from one to the next that you’re a good way through the album before you know it. Second single Asylum passes by with a friendly nod, and then the bouncier Bedouin arrives, full of dub reverb and otherworldly vocal samples. Molten Love brings a tribal rhythm and some overwhelming chimes, along with some gentle pads, and of course the normal array of entirely bizarre vocal samples.

After the short piece Pi comes the longer S.A.L.T., with some Mancunian Satanic readings, apparently borrowed from a Mike Leigh film called Naked. Out of context, as all good samples on The Orb‘s works are, it makes relatively little sense, but makes for an entertaining listen nonetheless. After a brief sea shanty, it mixes into The Orb‘s biggest hit single to date.

Toxygene, it is said, started life as a remix of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s comeback single Oxygène (Part 8), which was rejected because it didn’t actually contain any of the original. This is easy to believe when you hear the mixes that did make it – they’re generally huge dance versions that remain fairly faithful to the piece, and great though The Orb are, that really isn’t why you employ them to remix your single.

But whatever the backstory, Toxygene is great, and is entirely deserving of its place as the centrepiece of this album. It’s also the only commercial-sounding thing on here, so you can’t help but feel it was probably a good thing all round that things ended up the way they did. For pretty much the only time in their career, The Orb deliver a huge synth-driven hit single, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Then it’s back to the slightly loopy samples with the short Log of Deadwood, and then the longer Secrets, and then Passing of Time opens with another crazy sample, I’m guessing from a film (it sounds like a housing advert from the 1950s, until the nice man tells us “the rocket is waiting”). The resulting track is laden with grimy synths, but as with much of this album, is lacking a little in melody.

72 is just a short sample, with a hidden track a few minutes later, and then Orblivion draws to an end. For me, it’s not as good as subsequent album Cydonia, but it does have Toxygene, which is a pretty good reason to track it down – as a minimum everything else on here is a bonus, and you might even find something you like in amongst the rest.

You can still find the two-disc special edition of Orblivion at major retailers.

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise

Barely six months after the release of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s first Electronica album, he was already back with the second volume. This time, of course, we start with certain expectations after the first, and it’s not a disappointment.

The second volume begins with the gloriously atmospheric The Heart of Noise (Part 1), a duet with the French electronic musician Rone, who I hadn’t heard of before, but who seems to have brought a lot of additional atmosphere to this piece. It steps naturally into Part 2, which curiously for a collaboration album features Jarre collaborating with himself.

You must have realised by now that I’m a pretty big fan of Pet Shop Boys, so it should come as little surprise that I was excited about Brick England, but it does seem a typical act of irony for the duo that what’s clearly their best song in a number of years didn’t actually make it onto their latest album, released just weeks before this one. But Brick England is just so good. If there were any justice, this would have been number one for weeks. It wasn’t even a single – actually, Jarre seems to have lost interest in this album as soon as it was released and gone onto recording Oxygène 3 instead.

Julia Holter turns up next for the sparkling These Creatures, and then the one track that I don’t understand, As One with Primal Scream. It seems clear that they didn’t bother turning up for this, so Jarre has collaborated with them in much the same way as rappers collaborate with bald annoying drummers – by taking their song and recording another one over the top. The results aren’t bad, but surely Jarre could have done better?

Some of the legends here are every bit as legendary as Jarre himself, and Gary Numan is surely one of the closest, and although I haven’t really felt he’s lived up to his status in the last couple of decades, it’s hard not to have a degree of respect for him. Here for You is good though – possibly even one of the better tracks on here.

Without the list of collaborators, it’s often hard to know exactly what’s going on, so the gentle Electrees (with Hans Zimmer) fades into the more violent Exit, largely a solo Jarre work until Edward Snowden suddenly appears out of nowhere to talk about privacy for some reason.

Next it’s the turn of Canadian singer Peaches, who confused me briefly when I wondered why I’d only vaguely heard of her, until I realised she’s basically never had a hit in the UK. What You Want is pretty good though, although perhaps not quite as good as Gisele, with the flamboyant French singer Sébastien Tellier.

Switch on Leon sees Jarre appropriately working with The Orb to express their deep love of synthesizers and electronic music, but ultimately here is little more than an interlude which continues with the pleasant and bumpy Circus, with Siriusmo.

The brilliant Yello turn up for Why This, Why That and Why, a strangely compelling track which, like Brick England, blows their own 2016 album Toy out of the water. It’s an odd one, but it’s definitely one of the best tracks on here.

Prolific experimental musician Jeff Mills is next, with The Architect, a pleasant instrumental before the brilliant Swipe to the Right, with Cyndi Lauper, definitely one of the best pop tracks that Jarre has ever been involved with. Then another French legend Christophe appears to deliver Walking the Mile, a pleasant pop song.

Right at the end are a couple of surprises – Jarre collaborates with himself again and delivers his own vocal on another great pop song, Falling Down, and then it closes with the track that started the whole project, The Heart of Noise (The Origin).

Ultimately both halves of the Electronica project are great albums, but I’d dare to suggest that The Heart of Noise is actually slightly better than The Time Machine. Needless to say, both albums are well worth a listen, and ideally a purchase, and hopefully, one day, even a follow-up.

You can still find volume 2 of Electronica at all major retailers.

Record Store Day 2016

Backlash aside, I always feel as though we should try and stir up a bit of excitement for this weekend’s Record Store Day, as we did in previous years. Here are some of the releases that caught my eye…

  • a-haHits South America – five previously unreleased live tracks (12″ EP, 3,000 copies in the US, also in the UK and Germany)
  • AirCasanova 70 – four remixes including two by Brendan Lynch (12″ “maxi transparent splatter vinyl”, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • David BowieThe Man Who Sold the World (12″ picture disc, 5,000 copies in the US, also Canada, Germany and Netherlands), TVC15 (7″ picture disc, 5,000 copies in the US, also Canada, Germany and Netherlands), and I Dig Everything – The Pye Singles (12″ EP, 7,500 copies in the US, also Canada)
  • CassiusAction EP and 8 Beats (both 12″x2, Germany only – the latter also in Canada)
  • ChvrchesEvery Open Eye Remix EP (12″ EP, 5,000 copies in the US and Canada)
  • John Cooper Clarke – Ou est le Maison de Fromage (180g coloured vinyl, UK only)
  • Étienne de CrécySuper Discount 1, Super Discount 2, and Super Discount 3 (all UK only, format not stated)
  • Dead Can DanceAnastasis (2xLP, 1,500 copies in the US, also Canada, Germany and Netherlands)
  • 808 StatePacific – three remixes (12″ EP, 2,000 copies in the US, also in the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • EuropeThe Final Countdown 30th Anniversary – three tracks including new remix (12″ electric blue vinyl, UK only)
  • Frankie Goes to HollywoodRage Hard (The Making of a 12″) (12″ EP, 2,500 copies in the US, also in the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • The Future Sound of LondonAccelerator plus Andrew Weatherall remix of Papua New Guinea and Stolen Documents (black heavy weight LP in printed inner bag with hand-numbered 7″ vinyl, UK and Germany only)
  • Heaven 17(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang (repressed 12″, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Jean-Michel JarreE.S.Exit (7″, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Kings of ConvenienceQuiet is the New Loud, Versus, and Riot on an Empty Street (LPs, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • MadonnaLike a Virgin & Other Hits (12″ pink vinyl, reissue of 1984 Japanese EP with Obi Strip, 4,500 copies in the US, also in Canada, the UK and Netherlands)
  • Mike OldfieldNuclear (7″ picture disc, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • The OrbThe Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (4xLP, UK and Netherlands)
  • The ResidentsThis is a Special DJ Record of The Residents’ Alleged Music. Please Do Not Steal It! Keep it at Your Station – We Need the Radio Airplay (LP, 1,500 copies in the US, also in Canada, the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Soft CellSex Dwarf – including remixes by The Grid (12″, Canada, UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Alan Partridge – Knowing Me, Knowing You (picture disc, UK only)
  • Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks (LP blue vinyl, 2,500 copies in the US, also in the UK,  Germany, and Netherlands)
  • Dr. Who and the Daleks / Dr. Who – Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (LP box set, UK only)

Good luck trying to find any of those. More information for the US here, the UK here, Germany here, and various other countries here.

The Orb – The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld

The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld only has ten tracks on it. That’s true, but it belies the fact that several of them are fifteen minutes long, and one clocks in at nearly twenty. Double albums, though, when they are put together properly, can be exceptionally good, and so it is with The Orb‘s ambitious and excellent debut album.

Things open relatively simply, though, with the shocking, brilliant, and iconic Little Fluffy Clouds. How amazing must this have sounded back in 1990, when the world heard it for the first time? Accompanied by a rhythmic ambient backing track, Ricky Lee Jones, definitely not on any drugs or anything, describes at length how amazing the skies were when she was growing up in Arizona. A long time ago, a friend and I were in the middle of nowhere on a road trip through her home state, the sun started to set, so we pulled over, and put Little Fluffy Clouds on full blast, and watched the sun set. It was a life-changing experience, and I don’t say that lightly.

Obviously, nothing else is ever going to be quite that good again, but there’s still plenty of groundbreaking and exquisite material on here. Earth (Gaia), like many tracks on this album, is an early excursion into the worlds of science fiction, and while a little selective editing here and there definitely wouldn’t have hurt it, it still has a lot to offer.

The pace here is slow and gentle, though, and we’re swept steadily into Supernova at the End of the Universe, which continues to sweep you along very gradually for the entirety of its twelve minute duration. But this is a carefully crafted album, and so, appropriately, the second side of the LP presents you with Back Side of the Moon, revealing one of The Orb‘s biggest influences, and if you aren’t paying full attention, there’s a fair chance that you won’t even notice as it mixes into the slightly jazz-infused Spanish Castles in Space, which closes the first half of the album.

Unlike Little Fluffy Clouds, which was just a baby at four minutes long, the album version of third single Perpetual Dawn is closer to ten minutes, giving them plenty of opportunity to explore different aspects of the track. The more compact single version, most of which finally turns up somewhere about half way through, would probably be my preference in general, but in the context of the album, this version works nicely. It is a shame that you don’t get most of the vocals though.

Into the Fourth Dimension is another drifting piece, but much more lively than anything we got on the first disc, and it keeps getting better, with the brilliant Outlands coming next. If you don’t remember which track that is, it’s the “best boyfriend a girl could possibly have” and “I don’t know if I was high” one. That’s followed by the lovely arpeggios of Star 6 & 7 8 9, which floats along beautifully for a while longer.

At the end is the first single, the extravagantly titled A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld, and which does go on pretty much forever. If you’re anything like me, you still can’t remember which one is which, so for future reference this is the track that samples, to wonderful effect, Minnie Riperton, singing about how “loving you is easy ’cause you’re beautiful”.

But, long though it may be, nothing lasts forever – the final track ends, and with it, after almost two hours, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld draws to a close. It’s an unusual album, definitely best enjoyed in a particular state of mind, but also an exceedingly good one, which this week celebrates its 25th birthday.

Surprisingly, the deluxe edition of this album seems to still be widely available, so if you can stomach an extra hour of deep ambiance on top of the original two, this is the one to go for.