The latest album from The Orb (aka Dr. Alex Paterson) is a collaboration featuring David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame. While The Orb made their mark on British electronica by being an early force in both the downtempo and techno circles, their more psychedelic take on those genres could be seen as only a few synth patches and modulator wheels away from music that Pink Floyd helped to fashion. So the thought of marrying their styles together is an intriguing one.
With any collaboration, the balance of power tends to shift one way or another. And on Metallic Spheres it seems to lie decisively with David Gilmour. Gilmour’s guitar loops, textures and improvised passages are much more at the fore of the tracks than I expected, which was perhaps a more moody and ambient recording that utilised Gilmour for sound treatment. But the album is almost the other way around. The Orb operates less on the experimental side and as more of a sonic sculptor with producer Youth. The rhythmic bed and sound collage techniques range from understated to supportive, but all in service of what Gilmour is providing on the (more) melodic front.
The album is split into two sides, as well as two tracks: the “Metallic Side” and the “Spheres Side.” Both are collections of individual songs performed seamlessly one to the next. There isn’t much in the way of stark variety between the sides, as they come across much more as compatible halves of a whole. Things shift much more on the song level than they do between the “sides.”
Sonically, the album would be wrongly billed as “ambient.” There really is very little true ambience to be found, other than that the preponderance of e-bow and pedal guitar work tends to lend a floating edge to the instrumental proceedings. The record is actually very rhythmic, with nods to both Michael Brook, select Brian Eno moments and some of the soundtrack work of Peter Gabriel. A world music vibe lays heavily over the percussion and rhythm tracks, and a decided groove is largely in effect for the entirety of the record. Youth is also prominent as a third collaborator, supplementing his production duties with frequent electric bass and programming parts.
Don’t let words such as improvised and experimental lead you to believe that this is an academic affair. On the contrary, it’s a very melodic, even head-bobbing, album. Much more than three guys coming together from disparate disciplines, they work together as a very complementary group. If you’ve heard any of the bootleg “trance remixes” of the Pink Floyd albums – where the rumor mill holds The Orb as a strong contender for their creation – then you have a decent head start for the sound here. Downtempo meets Pink Floyd meets instrumental rock meets your ears.
The deluxe edition of the album offers a bonus disc containing the same content in an alternate “3D60” version. Although still a standard binaural CD, it is mixed specifically for headphone use to mimic a surround sound environment. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this addition, but it is actually a striking difference from the standard version. Not only is it engineered to maximize a more immersive instrument separation, but it’s quite frankly an almost different album in places. There is more music, the arrangement of existing material is sometimes altered and the overall effect is that of a retooling of the album. More than a quick gimmick, the deluxe edition actually feels like it contains worthwhile bonus content.
Metallic Spheres is a very successful, and seemingly very natural, collaboration. Both The Orb and David Gilmour completely play to each other’s strengths, and the result is an exceedingly rich – and trippy – experience. Highly recommended for fans of either artist.Powered by Sidelines