The Orb featuring David Gilmour: Metallic Spheres

RIYL: The KLF, Pink Floyd, LSD

When the Orb first broke through into somewhat mainstream appeal with their 1991 epic The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, some critics immediately drew comparisons between the ambient house outfit and classic prog rock of the 1970s. Both featured sprawling audio soundscapes, both included tracks that dipped well over 10 minutes in length, and both sounded amazing while under the influence of psychedelics. So while it’s kind of surprising that David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame is working with the ambient-house legends, its even more surprising is that it took this long.

The story behind Metallic Spheres is a bit odd. Originally it was going to be a single track collaboration between occasional Orb collaborator Martin “Youth” Glover and Gilmour, but after Orb mastermind Alex Paterson got a hold of the tapes, he decided to turn it into an entire album instead. Its not exactly the most organic or natural way of recording an album, but it’s hard to argue with the results; Metallic Spheres is bloody brilliant, the best album to feature the Orb’s name in well over a decade. Unlike many of the recent releases under the Orb name, Metallic Spheres finds Paterson returning to what he (used to) do best; longform ambient tracks. There are only two “songs” on Metallic Spheres; “Metallic Side” and “Sphere Side” and on the CD version there’s barely a noticeable break in between the two. It’s all one big sonic journey that’s nearly impossible to describe since it goes just about everywhere imaginable. Some portions feature nothing but barely-noticeable beats and layers upon layers of Gilmour’s instantly recognizable guitar work, while some segments turn the record into a dub album, with funky beats and playful synths. It all peaks in an orgy of sliding guitars and vintage synths that sounds like the magical Moog baby of Pink Floyd’s Animals and Vangelis’ soundtrack to “Blade Runner.” It’s all very epic and very awesome. (Columbia 2010)


Me, Myself, and iPod 6/16/10: Rock chalk Jayhawk

esd ipod

Mark Olson – Little Bird of Freedom
As a longtime fan of the Jayhawks’ 1995 gem Tomorrow the Green Grass, I’ll do anything for Mark Olson, Gary Louris and Marc Perlman. The three are occasionally moonlighting as the Jayhawks – this after Louris personally told me when he was promoting his last solo album that the Jayhawks were done; thank goodness he was wrong – but this is from Olson’s upcoming solo album Many Colored Kite, due in late July.

The Silver Seas – Another Bad Night’s Sleep
Here’s the amazing thing about Chateau Revenge, the forthcoming sophomore effort from the Silver Seas: we’ve posted two great songs from the album for download (you can find the other one here), and we still haven’t touched my favorites from the album. Singer Daniel Tashian sounds a bit more like Rufus Wainwright on this one than his usual Jackson Browne baritone. It’s all good to me.

Hey Champ – Neverest
There are a lot of bands making valuable contributions to the new synth pop wave – the tricky part is finding them. For every band like Hey Champ, there are 20 shit bands who play vintage synthesizers and sneer a lot. That’s not synth pop; that’s just posing. These guys get it; their songs are based on songs, not attitude. And if you really want to get freaked out, check out the video for this song. Dolphin boobies!

Everything Everything – Schoolin’
Not to be confused with shit ’90s band Everything, who had that lame-ass song about seeing better days. This is a UK band that sounds like they’ve been spinning a lot of Neptunes productions. Funny that I keep comparing bands to other artists who haven’t sold any records, but the first person I thought of when I heard this was Kenna.

Crocodiles – Sleep Forever
I’m just going to assume that the band name came from the Echo & the Bunnymen song of the same name, because these guys have clearly heard a few Echo records. Big, jangly, quasi-psychedelic ’60s guitar rock song. Here’s hoping the full-length is just as good.

Olafur Arnalds – Tunglio (Moon)
Because even download columns need a come-down song. This string-kissed instrumental is heartbreakingly beautiful. Don’t be surprised if it winds up serving as the score to a “Grey’s Anatomy” montage in the fall.


The Album Leaf: A Chorus of Storytellers

RIYL: Hammock, Death Cab for Cutie, Pink Floyd

It’s hard to believe this is the Album Leaf’s fifth album release, and that the group, led by mastermind Jimmy LaValle, is celebrating 10 years of existence. But here it is, A Chorus of Storytellers, the group’s new one, and it’s the same dreamy alt-pop LaValle and company has become known for – but even more polished, if that’s at all possible. Only four of the ten tracks on A Chorus of Storytellers have vocals, but it’s not like you expect an album from these guys to be full of vocal music anyway. In fact, some of their instrumental material is their best, the kind of music that takes you away to a far-off euphoric island and lets you forget about everything going on around you. Of course, it’s also incredibly pleasant music to work to or play in the background of a hipster party. The ten tracks on here flow nicely together, but some of the standouts are the melancholy instrumentals “Within Dreams” and “Stand Still,” and the dark yet strangely uplifting “Until the Last.” But LaValle really shines on the vocal number, “We Are,” which has a beautiful melody and subtly awesome harmonies against a stunning musical backdrop. Too many adjectives? Maybe, but The Album Leaf’s music continues to be adjective-inspiring. (Sub Pop 2010)

The Album Leaf MySpace Page


Devendra Banhart: What Will We Be

RIYL: Donovan, Marc Bolan, Veviter

Toiling within the ranks of the indie underground, Devendra Banhart has managed to elevate himself into the highest ranks of the so-called “freak folk” hierarchy. His last album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, made a pitch to expand that tag, with Banhart attempting to meld his obtuse approach with the idyllic imagery of the L.A. environs that spawned such ‘60s lynchpins as Neil Young, CSN, the Mamas and the Papas, Joni Mitchell, and various others that made music in those hallowed hills. Likewise, his recruitment by the majors – in this case, Warner Bros. records, home to many of those aforementioned icons – seemed to indicate a concerted effort to break through the barriers.

Indeed, while Banhart’s new label affiliation might seem a concession to commercialism, in truth, the results are every bit as eclectic…and, for that matter, every bit as eccentric…as his earlier efforts. The songs are sung in both English and Spanish, and rather than the clear, coherent melodies identified with the so-called Southern California elite, Banhart still shifts his set-ups – often radically and in the space of a single song. Consequently, “Rats” has a somewhat foreboding start before segueing abruptly into a state of kinetic jubilation. The jazzy inference of “Chin Chin & Muck Muck” morphs several times before the song hits its stride. Likewise, “Angelika” might have succeeded as a soothing serenade had it not accelerated midway through into a sizzling Latin samba.

Still, for all his abrupt turns, Banhart retains a decidedly old school stance. His melodies may seem somewhat amorphous, but his quivering vocals and loping tempos frequently recall the pixie-like warble of Donovan and Marc Bolan. A couple of tracks might bode well for future sing-alongs, specifically “16 & Valencia Roxy Music” and the gentle Spanish serenade called “Brindo.” As an album that’s magnified by ambition and grand designs, What Will We Be may well be his best yet. (Warner Bros. 2009)

Devendra Banhart MySpace page
Click to buy What Will We Be from Amazon


Fiona Joy Hawkins: Blue Dream

Wow. This disc’s sleeve has so many splashy things on it, such as “Produced by Grammy Award Winner Will Ackerman” and “Guest Performance by Luka Bloom” to gushing quotes from T-Bone Wolk and Bob Ludwig that you get the feeling you should really, really love it before hearing a note. So why, then, is it so damn ho-hum? Ah, maybe because Hawkins is another in a long line of pianists who crank out faceless albums in which to listen while you do other things, like sit in a dentist’s office or work the Sunday crossword puzzle. Listeners are also told that this is “WORLD FUSION PIANO.” That doesn’t really mean anything other than Hawkins is employing other artists to throw some “non-traditional” sounds into her mix. No, this isn’t Richard Clayderman, but it’s about as captivating. And at 22 tracks it’s nothing short of ego overkill. Definitely for a certain type of audience. Could possibly be good to put your newborn babies to sleep at night. (Little Hartley Music)

Fiona Joy Hawkins MySpace page


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