Switched On – The Orb: Abolition of the Royal Familia (Cooking Vinyl)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Orb need no introduction of course, being long familiar to admirers of ambient music since 1988. Theirs is an ever-changing line-up, orbiting the one constant of the equation, Dr Alex Paterson, and on this, their 17th studio album, Michael Rendall is elevated to the top table. He joins Paterson at the controls for a record including a number of starry guest turns.

Regular collaborators Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy (aka System 7) and Youth appear, alongside Roger Eno, David Harrow of On-U Sound, and – this being The Orb – a four legged friend, the Paterson pooch Ruby.

The album takes as its lead the royal family’s nod to the East India Company and its opium trade – both an inspiration and a protest against a movement causing two wars between India and China in the 18th and 19th centuries.

What’s the music like?

Lovely. There is little sense of explicit protest, and the guests all fit in to the overall mood seamlessly. The Orb have a very happy knack for matching quantity with quality, and even though it is barely a year since their last outing, Abolition of the Royal Familia sounds fresh and very much at ease in its own company.

At 77 minutes it’s a good stretch, but that gives the listener even more room to drift in and out of focus if required. Working together as Paterson and Rendall do means the door is never closed to a variety of styles and, very happily, humour too.

The speed with which Daze slips into a comfortable groove might surprise, a lead on which House of Narcotics and Hawk King build with their chugging beats. The latter displays The Orb’s familiar ambient house credentials as well as paying affectionate tribute to one of their most famous fans.

Gradually the tracks pan out and we experience more horizontal musical thoughts. Spacious intros provide warmth on a Californian scale, the listener allowed to bathe in consonant harmonies that drift back and forward like the ebbing of the tide. Shape Shifters (In Two Parts) goes further, adding a dreamy trumpet solo from 17-year old Oli Cripps, who Paterson met in his local record shop.

Also easing into the long form bracket is The Weekend It Rained Forever, a spacey, piano-led number towards the end, proving the ideal foil for the clattering breakbeats of The Queen Of Hearts preceding it.

Happily the band’s trademark collage of samples will make you smile, despite the inevitable rejection of a Prince Charles number. “We are WNBC”, begins Afros, Afghans and Angels, “the West Norwood Broadcasting Corporation. Streaming live to you whoever, wherever and whatever you are.” Yet a surprising and devastating payoff is saved for the finish. “Stay in your homes, do not attempt to contact loved ones or attorneys”, runs the key refrain of Slave Till U Die No Matter What U Buy, the Jello Biafra homage unintentionally marking itself out as an isolation anthem for our time.

Does it all work?

Yes. It is arguably too long, but with music like this duration is much less of an issue, especially with plenty going on around the perimeter on headphones. Certainly seasoned Orb followers will not see it as a problem. It could also be argued that Abolition of the Royal Familia does not introduce anything particularly new – again, not a problem, since The Orb always know how to reach those ambient parts few others can reach.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Abolition of the Royal Familia falls seamlessly into line alongside the recent additions to The Orb’s cannon, and has many moments of genuine bliss. It is like a sonic warm bath at either end of a trying day.

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Switched On – BVDUB: Ten Times The World Lied (Glacial Movements)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Life begins at forty, goes the saying – but that is the figure on which Brock Van Wey, or BVDUB as he is better known in musical circles, is closing in. That’s forty albums, too, an astonishing achievement when you consider the consistency of his ability to write pure musical ambience that also touches the heart.

Van Wey’s fifth for the Glacial Movements label has a provocative title, especially in these testing times for the world against which he rails. It has a powerful order to it as well – ten tracks, each of them recorded on the tenth of the month, recording ending ten months after it began.

For the first time Van Wey dispenses with vocals, letting his electronics and sound files do the talking.

What’s the music like?

Ten Ways The World Lied is incredibly descriptive, and also profoundly moving if heard at the right time and place. The slow moving musical motifs are often cast in the midst of thick, ambient clouds, yet there is a deep set feeling too that connects them closely to the earth.

Van Wey’s layered approach has a keen sonic beauty on headphones or on big speaker systems, the textures swirling closely around the listener but also allowing for an expanse of vast space.

Despite the titles there is no obvious protest element to the music, though it does feel very closely connected to primal and natural forms. Not Yours To See is underwritten by a lovely piano line, while Not Yours To Give sounds like a distant choir. Not Yours To Find is very richly textured, the sounds floating, while Not Yours To Keep pans out further, moving slowly but surely before a warmer swirl of sounds near the end.

Not Yours To Take keeps the soft harmonies but adds a lovely heat haze, and while Not Yours To Rule is similarly warm Not Yours To Break provides the ultimate resolution, a warm breeze that gradually settles on a beautifully held note.

Does it all work?

Yes. Once again BVDUB secures the deceptively difficult combination of simplicity and powerful expression, through musical content that moves slowly but can prove to be completely hypnotic and calming.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. An excellent collection of a producer who has been a deserved mainstay of electronica’s top table for more than two decades, and whose music can cover a wide selection of dancefloors. It should encourage listeners to delve even further into his considerable early output. I know I will!

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On record: BVDUB – Epilogues for the End of the Sky (Glacial Movements)

The apocalyptic title suggests a large scale work from BVDUB, aka Brock van Wey, one that deals with the end of mortality. Appearances are deceptive however. The End Of The Sky may in this case be the point where the sky stops being blue and moves to become the dark edges of the universe. Either way, there are some incredibly ambient moments to be enjoyed here.

What’s the music like?

BVDUB manages the delicate balancing act of creating long lasting atmospheres but also dropping in shorter, more melodic loops to keep the listener’s interest high. The music floats on a cushion of air, with a distant voice used for With Broken Wings and Giants Tall. Sparkling Legions Turn to Black uses a far off chant, conducting powerful emotion through carefully constructed foreground loops.

Meanwhile a delicate piano floats over the top of Footsteps Fade If Not Your Pain, the purest of sounds. Long, held background notes create a stillness over which slightly shorter patterns operate – with the addition of outdoor sounds and vocal fragments to create a scene of calm.

Does it all work?

Yes, on several levels. BVDUB creates some wondrously beautiful scenes through this album, conceived on a level that matches the title and the cover image. The tonal bases help, giving the music a clear anchor. This sequence, working extremely well in a single listen, is music that can be taken out from the whole and listened to in smaller chunks, or enjoyed as a whole that literally washes over the ears of the listener.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. BVDUB provides solace from the rush and incessant noise of everyday life, slowing things down, taking in the awesome scenery and surfing the wave of it.

Ben Hogwood

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