After a series of collaborative albums with the likes of dub legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, ambient electronica pioneers Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann, aka The Orb, now embark on a cosmic mission entirely unaccompanied for their 13th studio effort, Moonbuilding 2703 AD.
Returning to their natural home, Kompakt Records, the duo’s first guest-free album since 2009’s Baghdad Batteries (Orbsessions Volume III) could almost be described as a back-to-basics affair, although the fact that it’s a concept record about musical ancient rocks on solar moons shows that the term “asic” can only ever loosely be applied to The Orb.
Indeed, self-described as “a solid piece of music that mutates into an eight-legged Land Rover,” Moonbuilding 2703 AD is bursting with ideas. Opener “God’s Mirrorball” begins with an imposing yet tongue-in-cheek speech about good and evil before seguing into a suitably spaced-out melting pot of New Age, dub techno and marching beats.
Also clocking in at over 14 minutes, the similarly epic “Moonscapes 2703 BC” sounds like the acidic techno of Andy Stott interspersed with audio footage of a lunar landing, while the slow-burning “Lunar Caves” sees the pair embrace the kind of ambient atmospherics with which they first burst onto the scene back in the early 90s.
However, the closing title track proves that The Orb still possess the power to surprise. A dreamy affair which, like bonus track “Dilla’s Moon Quake” explicitly implies, take its cue from the soulful breakbeats of J Dilla, it sounds like nothing else in the pair’s vast back catalog and brings their journey to an unexpectedly funky end.
Free from any outside interference, Moonbuilding 2703 AD is one of The Orb’s most cohesive expeditions, but 25 years into their career, it’s also one of their most awe-inspiring.