There’s a small handful of techno / electronica / `whatever the hell else you want to call them’ bands that I like. The brief window that let me into that world was opened to reveal Future Sound of London, Underworld, DJ Shadow, Coldcut, Orbital, and The Orb. Somehow these acts took something out of the club scene and made it accessible for car stereos, home living rooms, and walkpeople. Orbus Terrarum and Orblivion were regular guests in my CD changer. Since then nothing much in that world has turned my head. Yeah, I’ve listened to Thievery Corporation, Prefuse 73, and M83, and I like them, but I long for those electronica days of old. Enter The Orb’s latest release in main man Alex Patterson’s twelve year career, Bicycles & Tricycles.
This album stands amongst The Orb’s all-time best. From the jazz-tinged opener “Orb Is” to the inspirational closer “Dilmun,” Bicycles & Tricycles is classic, and therefore great, Orb music. Many reviews will speak in dismay about the lack of change in the band’s sound. Fiddlesticks and poppycock I tell you! I apologize for my language, but I hate when reviewers do that. They are the same reviewers that will laud the latest tripe from Eminem even though it’s exactly like the last album. Wankers. Anyhoo, on to the rest of the album review.
“Aftermath” actually sounds more like it could be a lost Digable Planets song with Butterfly rapping with the last word of each line ascending to the next. “Land of Green Ginger” is somewhat of a sequel to their breakthrough “Little Fluffy Clouds,” since used in car commercials. There is a fairy tale told over rubberized electronic notes reminiscent of both FSOL and Underworld circa pre-Trainspotting. “Hell’s Kitchen” is probably the best track on the CD and deserves to be in some kind of movie soundtrack. With that title you’d expect it to be in the sequel to the Daredevil film, if, God help us, they actually make that damned movie. But instead, it should be used for an emotional tale of love and growing up a la Garden State. That is until it gets to about 1:30 into the song, and then it really is a superhero number. This is the type of song that, instead of trite gothic hard rock, could have been used to make The Matrix sequels a little better. Ok, that was unfair, nothing could have made The Matrix sequels better.
“Gee Strings” (Ha! Get it?) is another jazzy number with a little bit of the intro to “Baba O’Riley” in the background. At almost seven minutes long it veers into the territory of what I usually don’t like about electronic music, and that is its repetitive nature. It changes up just enough to make it listenable, but just barely. “Prime Evil” is akin to some of the best by Meat Beat Manifesto with its sampled vocals, eerie atmosphere, and changing tempos. “Abstractions” is aptly named with constantly changing sounds and styles as if it were a mishmash of leftover scraps that weren’t enough to be songs on their own. “L.U.C.A.” is almost my alma mater, but more importantly it is an awesome collage of sampled sounds, hiccupping beats, and ambient keyboards. The sound of the crowd cheering adds a unique element.
“From a Distance” is not a Bette Midler cover, but wouldn’t that be interesting? Maybe not, but it makes for good cloud talk. “Kompania” is the creepiest song on the record, beginning with crackly vinyl and sounds of rain, it continues with spooky descending note keyboards, a surefire way to put someone on edge. “Dilmun” is as close to a Moby song without being Moby that one could probably get. Think “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” or “My Weakness.”
Bicycles & Tricycles is a trip back in time to the mid-nineties when the genre of electronic music was just beginning to sprout too many limbs and branches of subcategories and labels. There was a time when “Chill Out” meant for someone to take it easy, not as a classification of music. If you enjoyed that time and just want to hear some intelligently crafted music without worrying about what it’s called, this one’s for you.
Future Sound of London- Lifeforms
Underworld- Second Toughest in the Infants
Future Sound of London- Dead Cities