The Orb

The Orbserver in the Star House

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Legendary reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry has exerted an almost mystical pull on artists from across the musical spectrum ever since the halcyon days of his Black Ark studio, when he created some of the strangest and most compelling music ever to come from Jamaica; his work with foundational reggae artists like the Heptones, Max Romeo, and the Congos remains both sonically unique and deeply, weirdly compelling, and artists from the Clash to the Beastie Boys have sought him out ever since then. Some of the resulting collaborations have turned out to be deeply misbegotten; a few have been brilliant. This is one of the latter. The Orb are almost as legendary in electronic music circles as Perry is in the reggae world, but their signature style -- a soft and dreamy fusion of house and ambient music -- is obviously not a good fit with Perry's sonic adventurousness or his infamously manic (not to say crazy) verbosity. As it turns out, though, this is one of those situations in which a surface incompatibility masks deep harmony. The Orb do not try to provide faux-Black-Ark reggae grooves for Perry, nor do they make the mistake of treating his (apparently improvised) lyrics as sacred pronouncements. Instead, they create a rich tapestry of soft but dense rhythmic backing, some of it more house-derived, some of it more reggae-flavored, over which Perry raps, and then they treat his voice like one instrument among many to be woven in and out of that tapestry. The approach is dubwise, but the result is unique -- it simultaneously pushes familiar musical buttons and sounds like nothing else that has come before. Listening to this album is a bit like eating comfort food from an alien planet. Highlights include the stately and decorous skank of "Man in the Moon," the tectonically bassy "Go Down Evil," and the richly funky "Thirsty," which is built on a piece of vintage Perry wisdom: "If you're thirsty, drink some water."

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