Big Life, 1991
I first heard the Orb when listeners of the the eternally-cool John Peel show voted "...Pulsating Brain..." as their track of the year. The inspired layering of snatches of Minnie Riperton's outrageously squeaky "Loving You" with washes of Tangerine Dream-style washes and bubbles of synth, made me perk up my ears and go "what on earth is this?"
They wear their stoner prog-rock influences on their sleeve, with the four-side concept format, the Pink Floyd references and the cheesy space theme. But this was a highly original and influential album, drawing on ambient and dance music to launch a whole new genre of contemporary electronic composition.
To put it broadly, out of its four "sides", the first and third have beats, the second and fourth don't. The beats are interspersed with samples of everyday noises and snatches of people speaking, "ambient" in its original sense. The more dancy numbers include the fun "Little Fluffy Clouds", in which an apparently completely sober Rickie Lee Jones wibbles about the purty things she used to see in the sky. The perky reggae "Perpetual Dawn" is also good fun, with a guy making strange blibbling noises. "Into the Fourth Dimension" makes nice use of bits of classical music (including Allegri's Miserere).
Of the floatier, ambient pieces, I've also mentioned the magnificent "...Pulsating Brain...". Before this we have some off-beat layers of sparkling synth melody on "Star 6 & 7 8 9". On the first side, the beautiful "Spanish Castles in Space" is based on some minimalist splashes of piano and bass. "Back Side of the Moon" builds up into a thick, and gloopy mass of ethereal noise (in particular the ubiquitous "Universe" synth sound, popular around the early 90's).
A couple of the tracks, "Earth (Gaia)" and the ordinary techno "Outlands", don't do very much interesting, marring the album's otherwise flawless sweep.
October 9, 2003