If you were just getting used to the idea of the Orb being on the Kompakt label yet again, consider this a heads up. With Moonbuilding 2703 A.D. and COW/Chill Out World!, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann demonstrated to us all, yet again, why they continue to be considered a top tier act of the world of electronic music and ambient pop. With No Sounds Are Out of Bounds, the Orb make the leap to Cooking Vinyl in order to make a highly collaborative work meant to, in Paterson’s words, “keep people guessing and keep them confused”.
The Orb have thrown the revolving door open to some of the usual suspects like producer and Killing Joke bassist Martin “Youth” Glover and ambient musician Roger Eno. Then there are some appearances from less obvious musicians like bassists Jah Wobble and Guy Pratt. The roster keeps rolling with Gaudi, Roney FM, Michael Rendall, Brother Culture, Mary Pearce, Emma Gillespie, Rhinanna, Andy Cain, and Hollie Cook. The resulting album is every bit as terrific as it is daring. Some times it feels very much like an Orb album. Other times it feels as if some alien entity has assumed control of the boards. Before we go and proclaim No Sounds Are Out of Bounds as one of the best Orb releases in existence, we first need to figure out who gets credit. After all, Paterson himself said that he wanted “more contributors” this time around.
Singer Emma Gillespie helps get the album started with “The End of The End”, an opener that has more to do with a slow synthpop jam than weird electronica. The one oddball trait left from the latter is a weird bass line that twists underneath Gillespie’s delicate cooing: “I can be with you, only in my dreams / My reality is tearing at the seams.” “Rush Hill Road” is more uptempo techno, giving Hollie Cook a chance to head to the club with her unobtrusive, high-climbing voice. “I Wish I Had a Pretty Dog (Never Underestimate an Underdog)” starts in abstract fashion, like an updated “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”, but it soon turns to straight-ahead reggae. Between “The End of the End”, “Rush Hill Road”, and to a lesser extent “I Wish I Had a Pretty Dog”, listeners would be forgiven for thinking that No Sounds Are Out of Bounds doesn’t comfortably sound like an Orb album. But that’s just 15 minutes of a 70-minute album.
The rest of the time, No Sounds Are Out of Bounds truly lives up to its goofy name. If you’re a sucker for a good beat (and if you follow acts like the Orb, you obviously are), the programming to “Pillow Fight @ Shag Mountain” and the lounge act “Doughnuts Forever” will surely hit you where you groove. Rhinanna’s husky spoken word helps “Drift” — er, drift along with the most minimal of pulses. “Wolfbane” is the sample happy track, appropriating Dre and Snoop Dogg’s advice to “smoke weed every day”. The curiously titled “Easy on the Onions” is like a Laswell dub experiment headed for the stars beyond the stars, paving the way for two oddly delightful numbers to wrap up the album.
First is “Ununited States”, featuring Roger Eno. It’s made of metallic growls, slithery voice samples, and a lone horn asking unanswered questions. Paterson, in his hubris, says it’s “how the new Blade Runner score should’ve sounded”. I personally enjoyed the soundtrack to 2049, but Paterson is equally as adept at capturing the mood on “Ununited States”. Next comes “Soul Planet”, a ghostly 15-minute dreamscape with Mary Pearce’s vocal parts taking a back seat in the mix. It’s impossible to describe this “song” in the same way that it’s near-impossible to describe “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain the Rules the Centre of the Ultraworld” found at the end of the Orb’s equally ambitious double debut The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. I’m sure the move was deliberate.
No matter who gets credit, No Sounds is one bold and fascinating album. Nothing is on autopilot and even the slow, quiet passages are far from boring. There’s certainly nothing wrong with Paterson and Fehlmann going it alone on Kompakt, but I’m certainly cozying up to the idea that no Orb is an island.