It’s hard to believe that the Orb haven’t used an album title like Prism before. Aside from the obvious Pink Floyd connections, it’s a perfect way to describe Alex Paterson’s multi-faceted approach to the sound of the legendary linchpins of electronic music; a source of light strikes the shape and out shoots a variety of colors, dazzling the eye from every angle. Though some tracks on Prism lean heavily on reggae, the style doesn’t wind up hogging the rainbow of sound that Paterson and Michael Rendall can call forth.
Like a hazy dream with rotating characters and themes, the most intriguing components of Prism wander in and out of the mix, tucked away inside a peaceful fog woven from samples, keyboards, and some outside talent. It’s not an immediate grab-you-by-the-collar listen like 2020’s Abolition of the Royal Familia, but it’s a dive worth taking just the same. The dream-like state of the music means that there are tangential elements for days, providing the listener with multitudes of slow-brewing scraps of sound, forming a one-of-a-kind whole that couldn’t unfold in any other way.
The Orb have collaborated with the late Lee “Scratch” Perry at least twice. Hence, anyone following Paterson this far is already familiar with his predilection for thick, undistilled reggae. Though those Jamaican beats serve as a driving force within Prism, the style shares space with every other Orb preoccupation. The long-winded title “Why Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All” perfectly blends reggae and electronic dance music, proving that one needn’t be loyal to one particular style if they just want to get bodies moving.
It’s on the following track, “A Ghetto Love Story”, where Eric Von Skywalker helps the Orb get low-down and funky, Caribbean style. Here, the song’s poor protagonist finds himself puzzled by the fact that he found a perfect love. “She was from the hood, living good life like she should be / Nobody could understand why she liked me / In this neighborhood, life isn’t easy / Nobody would ever call her my wifey,” goes the deceptively happy chorus, demonstrating that the perfect match is often difficult to explain. The flip side of the reggae coin is “Dragon of the Ocean”, a darker twist to the style that allows Sirius B to call out to those who identify with the mythical beast in question. “Picking Tea Leaves & Chasing Butterflies” sits between the two extremes, weaving soft, stuttering sounds with booze hall samples and something that sounds like a bugle playing the first half of taps at half speed.
The remaining tracks on Prism that don’t ride on the reggae sound bounce between highly danceable synthpop (“Tiger”), hard and sweaty techno (“The Beginning of the End”), fast-paced rave (“Living in Recycled Times”), and fully blissed-out ambient (“Prism”). “H.O.M.E. (High Orbs Mini Earths)”, the track that gets the album started, seems to be built from everything in the Orb’s toolbox that isn’t reggae, an Orbal nexus where ambient, samples, and techno collide into ten minutes and 35 seconds of scene-setting.
It’s just too bad that Prism‘s longest song has the least impact. The LP falls just short of the Orb’s most essential work. But this is Paterson’s 18th release (depending on how you count them) under the name, and heaven knows they can’t all be drop-dead stellar. This is one of those Orb releases that pleasantly bides its time, waiting for that rush of inspiration that turns out to be only a parade of pretty neat ideas. For some, that’s the only vital sign they need to suggest that Paterson is alive, well, and creating. Given his track record, a masterpiece that will inevitably dwarf Prism could be just around the corner.