By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
You can blame the Orb for some of the most monstrously dippy missteps of early '90s electronica: the semi-cheesy New Age dabblings; the UFO-conspiracy vibe; the patchouli-scented dream association and a general feeling of drug-induced overindulgence. But that shit happens when you've got your tippy-toes dangling over the edge; some of your naiveté ends up influencing people with far weaker constitutions, and the result can be a mess. Case in point: You can blame the Orb in part for progressive trance, and, for this, they deserve punishment.
But you can also thank the Orb for countless innovations in their early records: Trip-hop owes a huge debt to the Orb, as do the tech-dub amalgam, ambient electronica and "Intelligent Dance Music." Always masters of rewiring connections and funneling energy, the Orb's Dr. Alex Patterson created a template that -- despite what airheads do with it -- has been harnessed by creative smart types to make very cool music.
Cydonia is the Orb's fifth proper album in a decade (they've also released a live record, a greatest-hits collection and a remix collection), and, at this point, Patterson seems content to stay within self-measured parameters and let the outer fringes of the dance community expand without his help, to simply create music that's comfortable for him. That's fine, because Cydonia is very good Orb: 13 tracks that mix supple beats; space-out laser blasts; amorphous clouds of pillowy feedback; deep, lush singing (by Aki Omori and Björk-soundalike Nina Walsh) and countless samples of weird native/indigenous instruments -- standard Orb. It's a beautiful 3 a.m. record, one that's perfect for dancing when you kinda feel like dancing but you're also kinda tired, perfect for floating around the kitchen or steeping a cup of Morning Thunder. Seldom will it blast you, truly surprise you or change the way you think about electronic dance music. But it'll move you, and that's worth something.