Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Orbsessed - Reconstructing Cydonia....

Twin seals of approval!

So what's the deal with The Orb's 2001 album Cydonia? Even this frighteningly comprehensive, mightily informative and lovingly compiled discography has everything post-2000 down as the 'crap years' and it's fair to say Cydonia saw them stumbling into the new millennium with something of a transitional album. It could certainly be seen as the final nail in The Orb MKI*s coffin, the departure of Andy Hughes under a less than fluffy cloud - presumably somewhere along the line between the initial Feb 1999 promo discs, the interim single CD promo efforts of Oct and Dec '99 and the reduction of his contributions to the Feb 2001 album proper - bringing a definite end to their "layering sounds on top of each other" phase. A fairly exhaustive (and slightly salacious) account of this decidedly troubled period for all concerned (and they certainly were!) is here....

Let's consider, er, MKI.1 to be the genesis, Paterson, Cauty et al, MKI.2 Paterson, Weston et al, MKI.3, Paterson, Hughes et al. Of course, it's a little unfair to define the group by their high-profile departures as Thomas Fehlmann has been a near-constant throughout MKs I.2 and I.3, and is pretty much responsible, em, for the bulk of MKII's output thereafter which is, um, kinda suddenly unfairly damning him with, eh, faint praise indeed, innit...?

Hark! There it is! Picture from Discogs.

In order to successfully cook up the original double album you need to be in possession of the 2008 Cydonia Special Edition with the second cd of unreleased (re)mixes and 'Versions' as well as 2006's Orbsessions Volume One* and 2007's Orbsessions Volume Two. By plucking select tracks from the 3 of these, and in paying particular attention to running times, we can begin....

* I own the re-release of this album, which retains the Space - Space outtake in the form of Pluto Calling (Twinkle), but omits the Cauty/Paterson Mummie Don't, replacing that with Angel 3 Dub.

Mummie Don't! ....before she evidently upped and did.

Disc 1
1 - Terminus. Let's kick off with Andy's Mix from the Cydonia Bonus Disc, assuming it's an earlier incarnation of the eventual album version.
2 - Jam On Yer Honey is taken from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it's called Jam On Your Honey).
3 - Once More is the album track from the original Cydonia.
4 - Ralf is nabbed from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it's called Ralph's Cupboard).
5 - Promis is the Version from the Cydonia Bonus Disc, clocking in at a slightly longer 5:47 (and close to the 5:45 of the CD-R's).
6 - Bicycles & Tricycles is swiped from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it's called 2026).

The original promo tracklisting from the suporb discography.

Disc 2
1 - Turn It Down is the Long Version from the Cydonia Bonus Disc.
2 - Yungle is plucked from Orbsessions Volume One.
3 - Ghostdancing is the Version from the Cydonia Bonus Disc. It should likely be the original album version with its matching running time, but I've elected for this version as it does away with the middling vocals.
4 - A Mile Long Lump Of Lard is the album track from the original Cydonia, sadly shorn of about 4 minutes in comparison to the CD-R cut.
5 - Freely Wheely ("Feely Wheely") is grabbed from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it's called Ba'albeck).
(6 - Hamlet Of Kings. This is just a bonus you can add to kinda balance up the running times and, well, it's probably the only other track really worth salvaging from the original Cydonia album.)

The full length 2CD-R promo version of Terminus.

So along the way way back we lose EgnableFirestarCenturiesPlum Island1,1,1 and EDMThursday's Keeper (and Hamlet Of Kings, I suppose, if we're playing by the absolute rules). The first 2 of these original album tracks are really just a couple of minutes of filler before we get to the twin horrors that are Centuries and Plum Island - a pair of pretty bland songy dirges that plop and plod along in the pedestrian direction of nowhere.... you'd ever really want to revisit. (Once More and Ghostdancing were more than enough of the ill-advised 'pop song phase' for me, thank you.) 1,1,1 - the only Orb track ever credited to Paterson alone? - is more blink-and-you'll-miss-it filler and EDM is fairly standard in their sleep lumpen electro-stodge (that was stretched out to an almost interminable length at their 2014 25th Anniversary show) that you'd be best passing over in favour of the far better, almost-deserves-to-make-the-cut, Thursday's Keeper....


The verdict? Well, for all my criticism of the original Cydonia album there's no denying that over the years you do become accustomed to how it all hangs together as a piece, so by somewhat mercilessly chopping it up and shuffling it around and adding extra tracks it's impossible not to unsettle the ingrained listening experience, especially as the newer, er, older tracks are that bit more abrasive in their execution (though I certainly prefer the reinstated tracks over those discarded). However, given this post has had a similarly long and pained period of gestation I can happily report that I am beginning to reprogramme my audio receptors to gratefully receive. The first disc - once you get past the ingrained notion that Terminus should always be the concluding track - actually hangs together pretty well. The space epic of 2026 in particular, is a definite highlight worth unearthing....

20 Bicycles & 26 Tricycles....

By disc 2 there's no denying the first 3 or 4 minutes of Yungle are great stuff, but the descent into heavy beats with the distorted vocal sample becomes more than just a little wearing over the course of the full 10 and the following Ghostdancing sticks out like a (muted) sore thumb in the midst of this disc. Again, with the original vocals forming so much of the listening experience it does sound rather lacking when reduced to an instrumental version (which, I suppose, should really be added, if somewhat grudgingly). But, by continually exploring this set of tracks as a double album there's a definite similarity of sound, the sonic palette featuring a strange array of, um, honks, clonks, squinks and skwonks that are unique to this period of The Orb alone....

Yungle. Er, turn it down at --:--....

There's probably a decent enough case for living with these select tracks for a bit longer and then further reassembling them into more evenly sounding sides, perhaps a softer ambient disc to start with followed by a rougher, beat-laden effort to follow (like, y'know, the complete opposite of their frankly horrible, career trashing run through at the Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld/Chill Out World! gig in Glasgow). It might just work.... Certainly I'd much rather have had this double set in 1999 - I think it just about merits escaping the 'crap years' in this form - and it is infinitely preferable to the remastered and expanded special edition of Cydonia from 2008 (the second disc which, with it's plethora of turd polishing remixes of the dreary Centuries, Plum Island and Once More, could be the worst thing farted out of The Orb's 00's cash cow)....


Limmy's Show: Dee Dee - Yoker

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Two From The Vault - The Illustrated Man


Has it come to this? Yep, we're deep into clearing out the hard disk drive territory, and so begins an (occasional) series of blogs "From The Vault" featuring unpublished and unseen odds and sods - it's mostly sods, to be honest! - from Agent Rob's ramshackle digital archives. To kick things off we have two variations on Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man* as intended for entry into the Barbican's 'Into The Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction' 2017 competition. A mixture of it being craply drawn - the idea of a body covered in countless tattooed staring eyes with those that are real, those that should be visible in the head, obscured is moderately inspired - then subject to endless 'digital toil' (AKA polishing the turd) and finally missing the deadline (it was 6pm and not midnight as assumed) all contributed to its lack of, er, anything....


The figure and his tattoos were two separate inked drawings, the latter digitally dropped in under the former after scanning, and the background and lettering - easily the best thing about this - were then added digitally (and doubtless subject to much further tweaking). I'll confess that I whole (and half-) heartedly regret mentioning the idea for this competition entry to a friend and that his obvious enthusiasm for its realistation, and evident disappointment at its actual materialisation as presented to him, pretty much killed off any remaining feelings of confidence in the piece. Still, can you imagine (as I did then and still do) if Frank Quitely had drawn this? Geez, it'd be amazing! Anyway, the five excellent (vastly superior and very deserving) winners can be seen here....

*Incidentally, the book itself contains maybe the finest short story ever written, 'The Long Rain'....

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A Year In Orbit - Unearthly Science Fiction....

Rest, weary space traveller....

Can it really be a year since Agent Rob, Agent Johnny and Adam Smith watched Unearthly Science Fiction roar off into the night sky over Edinburgh never to be seen nor heard from again...? 


And yet, just when Agent Rob had finally given up all hope he happened to receive a transmission from the lovely people at The Future Fire. It seems they had tuned their frequencies to 'far out' and successfully intercepted a communication from our lonely satellite somewhere over London in November 2017....

'Steve Mason and 'Olgur Zen' by John G. Miller

'Codename: Cosmos' by John G. Miller and Rob Miller


....and boy did they like it! It's hard to deny that sending an unmanned space mission out into the publishing universe is a long, lonely (and more or less) thankless task, so it was a real pleasure to read N.A. Jackson's in-depth review....

'Maria 3' by Rob Miller

"In some ways the fiction is all too earthly, collectively the stories evoke a grungy, malfunctioning world, disturbingly similar to our own in which the characters wrestle with the pointlessness of life or are consumed by ambition or bitterness."

'Splashdown one' by Adam J. Smith

In particular Adam J. Smith's 'Splashdown One' was singled out as "One of the most memorable pieces in the collection" while Ian Wark's 'The Pod' was praised for being "one of the more resolved of the stories... benefitting from its length."....

'Agent X4 and The Deep Fix' by John G. Miller

Furthermore, the "amazing illustrations", successfully "evoking the luridly coloured science fiction mags of the sixties", lead the reviewer to comment "It’s not often that illustrations complement fiction so well, but here they do and they help to give the magazine a unified look."....

'Planet Of The Jakey' by Neil Beattie

The reviewer concludes that the collection is "an intelligent and irreverent glimpse into how humanity may grapple and grope its way onwards. In the conception of these authors, we may head for the stars but we’ll be taking along all the trappings of dysfunctional late capitalism." 

'Steve Mason and 'Olgur Zen' by John G. Miller

It's great to see our wee book receive such a thoughtful and encouraging review, justifying Agent Rob and Adam J. Smith's early decision to intentionally go (if not, er, 'rub up somewhat') against Agent Johnny's (more traditional) grain - this collection couldn't simply be another run through of well worn riffs on the favoured SF of our youth. True, it might have been a somewhat bumpy ride until we cleared the atmosphere, but a write-up like this made the frequent bends all very much worth it....

Anyone who fancies heading to the dark side of the moon with us can book a ticket >> here....

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Swamp Thing

Cover by Steve Bissette

Cover by John Totleben

Photo by Mitch Jenkins