It’s been a very busy year for The Orb. Last June, the iconic ambient-electronic duo of Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann released a critically acclaimed album on Germany’s Kompakt record label, Moonbuilding 2703 AD, a series of remixes (reviewed here), and also embarked on a massive tour that included a stop in Montreal (reviewed here). And now, 25 years after the release of their debut LP Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, The Orb are back at it again with Alpine, a three-track EP released by Kompakt on March 4, 2016.
Alpine is a concept EP that captures three distinct periods during the day — morning, evening and dawn — through electronic music. The EP’s title and mountainous, Swiss-looking cover art, indicate the tracks relate to mountains, specifically the Alps. So, we have three songs representing the distinct mood and atmosphere of morning, evening, and dawn in the high altitude Swiss Alps.
“Morning,” appropriately the first track, starts with a cacophony of cowbells. One could argue that opening a Swiss-themed EP with cowbell samples is a little too obvious, but the cowbells are a nice touch that reflect The Orb’s trademark trippy, ambient sound. The cowbells also make an effective alarm to wake up the listener.
The chaos soon calms down and the track builds gradually, like the sun rising over an early morning mountain landscape. It’s great to hear The Orb returning to their ambient roots on this one–it is “Morning” after all, and I, for one, don’t like to start the day with throbbing house music. Midway through the track, the tempo picks up, and a subtle but hypnotic beat begins to take over, anticipating the energy of the second cut.
“Evening” gets the party started with a driving, tech-house beat. Layers of strings and electronic bleeps are gradually added until the tune becomes a low-key dancefloor burner. Yodeling samples continue to push the Swiss theme, but it’s filtered enough so as not to sound too kitschy. Although I enjoy the psychedelic and cinematic dance sound explored by The Orb here, the only thing I’m missing from Alpine is a real dub-wise cut — like the tracks The Orb produced with Lee Scratch Perry on The Observer in the Star House album, such as “Golden Clouds”.
“Dawn” brings the EP full circle with, as in “Morning,” the now-familiar cowbells signaling the birth of new day. “Dawn” is The Orb at its after-party ambient best, perfect for when you’re coming down from a night of hard-partying, but you’re still buzzing, not quite ready for bed, and you need a few more subdued beats to keep everything in perspective. The track ends in gorgeously blissful ambience, the type of abstract, mind-bending music that has made The Orb justifiably legendary.
Written by Rob Coles
*edited by Kate Erickson