Recorded in Berlin over the last few months, The Observer At The Starhouse sparks with a rare magic as Dr Alex Paterson and long-time Orb member Thomas Fehlmann construct a panorama of stripped-down backdrops to provide the perfect backdrops for the Upsetter s inimitable pronouncements, righteous declarations and sweet vocals. The Orb have long been known for their assimilation of deepest dub into their stratospheric sonic innovations, as evidenced on U.F. Orb s Towers Of Dub, itself something of a Lee Perry tribute with its sound effects and distinctive underlying eccentricity. Starting in the late 60s with the Upsetters, Perry wrote the book on Jamaican mixing desk trickery, then constantly ripped it up to create new aural blueprints for the music via his Black Ark productions of the following decade, since then charting a waywardly idiosyncratic path which has ensured legions of followers absorbing his every move. Meanwhile, Thomas has been at the forefront of Germany s electronic music scene since his pioneering avant foraging with Palais Schaumburg in the late 1980s, becoming part of Berlin s rapidly-evolving techno underground, working with Sun Electric and many of the city s major artists and operations, including the mighty Kompakt. His immaculate electronic knowledge and intuition now had two disparate lightning rods to bounce between, recalling, I met Lee for the first time during this session and it was pretty touching to see how an unexpected connection and inspirational exchange could so awaken our creative juices. Alex and I had never made so much new music on the spot before. It was soon pretty clear that we wouldn't get far with the four backing tracks we pre-produced for the session. Lee was so overwhelmingly creative that it took an afternoon for those to be finished. From then on we were forced to come up with new beats on the spot, to keep Lee in the flow. Scratch s vocals glide distinctively over bass heavy monsters such as Soulman and Man On The Moon , the most overt Orb-dub behemoth on the set, while Don t Rush takes the ridim form then dismantles it in subterranean sonic catacombs. House grooves inflect House Of The Orb and Ashes while a funky slide bass-line percolates under Thirsty . Hold Me Upsetter sparkles with lovely bass-string interplay, while Congo brings in rolling banks of African percussion, many of the tracks beat with the subliminal rasta heartbeat. Both parties rework one of their classics; Police And Thieves , the track which Perry produced for Junior Murvin in 1976, is turned into a bass-heavy vocal vehicle for the reggae veteran, while The Orb s Little Fluffy Clouds is reshaped as the hallucinogenic dancehall clatter of Golden Clouds . The mouth-watering prospect of a legendary master working with long-time acolytes who tuned into his unique wavelength long ago blossoms and explodes on The Observer At The Starhouse, which, in the best Scratch and Orb tradition, often takes music where it s not gone before.
Once upon a time, in a distant galaxy, a Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry vocal album was a rare thing.
Arriving in Kingston in the early 1960s, Perry changed the shape of Jamaican popular music many times over. Of his many achievements, pioneering dub at his Black Ark studio is the standout. He didn't concentrate on singing until relatively late: his first full-length vocal set arrived in 1978, but the next didn't surface until the mid-1980s, when a transformed Perry washed up in England as a walking performance-art piece, following a dramatic metamorphosis.
Since then, he has collaborated with myriad entities, issuing albums of varying quality with dizzying speed, ranging from intriguing excellence to terrible trash. Thankfully, this playful pairing with dub-influenced dance duo, The Orb, leans toward the former.
Perry’s babbling stream of non-consciousness fits well over their fluidly spacey electronic backing, resulting in plenty of moments to savour. The minimalist rhythm of Golden Clouds, a reworking of The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds, has an optimistic, upbeat quality to it, as a double-tracked Perry communes with God.
Hold Me Upsetter has a wacky bossa nova feel, courtesy of a warm vocal sample, as Perry’s nonsensical chants are dubbed into oblivion.
Man in the Moon is another charmer, with snippets of wisdom in the Upsetter’s ramblings as the track slowly unfolds; it begins sounding like a Goan trance track gone wrong, but soon drifts into skanking territory, as Perry proclaims himself a Swiss tycoon, at home on the moon.
Re-working Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves might seem like a bad idea, but this warped re-cut nearly works, in part because The Orb draw in a few bars of an ancient 1960s Upsetters organ track, chopped up with some ghostly 1970s melodica work. Perry’s vocal improves as the track progresses, too.
And although The Orb harness a range of mostly down-tempo styles on the disc, it all hangs together rather well, and unlike many recent releases, nothing too objectionable passes Mr Perry’s lips.
Overall, The Orbserver… is lots of fun for late-period Perry fans, and will appeal to Orbologists, too.
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