Ambient house pioneers The Orb certainly aren’t averse to working with the odd 70s veteran, having already previously collaborated with the likes of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Gong’s Steve Hillage. So hooking up with reggae legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the man who practically invented the dub sound they’ve consistently borrowed from during their experimental 25-year career, was never going to be much of a problem.
Their 11th studio effort, The Orbserver In The Star House, effortlessly blends the stoner mutterings of the 76-year-old, who has released a staggering 22 albums since the turn of the 21st century alone, with their typically abstract sound on eleven tracks, which largely avoid the usual route of dubbing-up existing material.
Indeed, founding member Dr. Alex Paterson and Swiss composer Thomas Fehlmann only resort to this slightly lazy method on “Golden Clouds,” a dancehall-tinged reimagining of their signature hit “Fluffy Little Clouds,” which sees Perry reflect on his Jamaican childhood, and “Police & Thieves,” a doom-laden stripped-back reworking of the Junior Murvin reggae classic he produced.
Elsewhere, the duo’s first vocal-heavy release instead provides Perry with an original collection of soundscapes which bridge the gap between their respective influential outputs. Unsurprisingly drenched in the kind of foggy atmospherics he’s accustomed to, the funky ska of “Thirsty” (“if you’re thirsty/drink some water”) and the reverb-drenched Afrobeat of closer “Congo” throw a few nods to the old-school.
But The Orbserver In The Star House only really begins to grab your attention when it embraces The Orb’s unique and slightly creepy brand of comedown electronica, such as “Go Down Evil,” a trippy slice of minimal techno interrupted by a piercing orchestral middle-eight which could have escaped from an Alfred Hitchcock horror, the eerie ghostly choral vocals which accompany the staccato synths and languid house beats of “Hold Me Upsetter” and the claustrophobic trip-hop of “Man In The Moon.”
The Orbserver In The Star House is sometimes guilty of being as aimless as Perry’s often indecipherable musings, particularly on the plodding “Soulman.” But with one of the all-time greats in tow, it’s a far more authentic and convincing experiment than most dance producers’ forays into the world of dub.