The Orb are keeping incredibly busy. Though there have been many notable releases over the past few years, their 2012 work with Lee “Scratch” Perry on The Observer in the Star House seemed like a point of no return. Subsequent records were far more low energy and increasingly subdued to the point of abstraction. They are generally known as ambient house producers, so certainly there were always elements of this in their music. But in these past few years, things seemed to go further left of field. On Chill Out, World!, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann have completely embraced the structureless void.

Trying to decide whether their romp through the esoteric is a good or a bad thing is like staring at anything abstract — completely up to the interpreter. But it isn’t particularly innovative. There are interesting sounds sourced from interesting places while the duo was on tour, but they pop up dripping with echo and synth dated tones. There’s a familiarity to the production in beautifully produced bass tones, which are familiar from previous work but without any real sense of progression. Moving from track to track on the record offers nothing memorable. One might argue that the very definition of a good ambient record is one which fits effortlessly into the background, but some of the most notable here are moving and emotional sonic experiences. Brian Eno and even BVDub create inspired works which seem to tell stories even in the absence of explicit motivations. Here, we get looping samples of chirping birds incomprehensibly appearing over industrial whines and plodding machinery on “5th Dimensions.” Our first rare taste of a beat only comes in on the previous track, “4am Exhale.” It gives you something to cling to but unfortunately doesn’t offer any insight into the remainder of the record.

On “Sex (Panoramic Sex Heal),” we get what sounds like a sampled Hawaiian melody stretched uncomfortably over moody reversed horns rippling incessantly. “7 Oaks” interrupts with the album’s equivalent of an interlude that could be a television drama theme song looping from a hotel room next door. It’s interrupted abruptly with a rhythm and very dated horns which seem completely unrelated.

The press material boasts strongly that the gentlemen were creatively unbridled for this work, and it shows. Ask any writer who’s ever written a self-indulgent work if they were “successful” in the traditional sense. If your measurement is on reliability and communicating an idea or an emotion, perhaps self-indulgence is not the ideal approach. It’s unclear what the motivation is here, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who enjoyed the more beat-oriented, groove-heavy atmospheres The Orb have created in the past getting anything out of this album.

There may be a new audience for this. The Orb may finally pop up in the record collections of those who fancy just enjoying ambient sounds, a tour without a guide. It is indeed their most ambient album to date, and so it must be considered outside the context of their usual work. Considered that way, it fails to bring anything new to the table. The appearance of a strong breakbeat on “9 Elms over River Eno (Channel 9)” belies a lack of confidence and suggests that maybe The Orb got a little bored themselves.

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