The Orb - "Styrofoam Meltdown" (Baghdad Batteries (Orbsessions Volume III))
Extant for almost two decades now, though theyíve gone through their fallow periods, the Orb have always had one ace up their sleeve: their distinctly English sense of humor. On records like Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and UFOrb, their long, unraveled stretches of ambient techno felt pranksterish, but the group (essentially Dr. Alex Paterson and whoever came along for the ride) managed somehow to balance their goofing off with some of the most dubwise electronica of the early to mid 1990s.
In 2005, they connected with the Kompakt mothership, Iím guessing due to Thomas Fehlmannís involvement, which seemed both to bring the Orb to wider attention for the first time in a long while, and to signal an upward lift in the quality of their records. Baghdad Batteries (Orbsessions Volume III) continues that climb. While Patersonís on good form here, I daresay itís Fehlmann thatís responsible for the recent retooling of the Orb, as parts of Baghdad Batteries recall a more aleatory, drifting take on Fehlmannís ďMaking it Whistle,Ē his master-stroke single from earlier this decade.
The liner notes inform that Baghdad Batteries comprises Ďmusic from the movie Plastic Planet by Werner Boote,í though this has meant no significant shift in what the Orb essentially does. The more they unshackle their music from any grid formation, the more interesting it gets Ė ďChocolate FingersĒ chases pointillist one-finger melodies through mazes of delay; the opening of the title track has the same aerated, glassy orchestral quality as Angelo Badalementiís work for Twin Peaks, its Reichian patterns flitting across your eyelids like flicker films; throughout, the Orb balance melody and melancholy with spatiality, and bring an improvised unpredictability to what they do.
Itís not all top drawer, and on occasion Paterson and Fehlmann seriously drop the ball. I guess thatís a good reminder of their humanity. After all, thereís certainly no such thing as a perfect Orb album, which is part of their charm. But as much as I enjoy Baghdad Batteries, Iím left wondering exactly what or who itís for, or how itís supposed to function Ė while they donít quite feel like an irrelevance, itís hard to get excited about a new Orb record. Ultimately, Paterson and Fehlmann suffer from their reliability.