The KLF are one of those bands that are often more fun to talk about than to listen to; they acted in nothing but grand gestures, and if not for the people who were actually there, you’d think their entire history was made up. Like everything else in their discography, Chill Out is the stuff of legend; recorded with nothing but two DAT machines and a tape recorder, it was supposedly done in one continuous take, with the band starting over from the beginning each time they made a mistake. It relies heavily on samples from all kinds of disparate sources, including an Elektra sound effects disc, news reports, an evangelist, Tuvan throat singers, and a couple of songs you definitely know. And it singlehandedly invented a genre that hadn’t really existed before: music for the morning after, when your brain’s still conked out and scattering all over the place, but you still gotta get home. It can be broadly defined as ambient, though I won’t mince words there – Chill Out is one of the very best ambient albums ever made, the sort that’s made for the wandering mind yet manages to capture your full attention. Conceived as a journey from Texas to Louisiana (two states The KLF had never been to), it is an entire day’s drive in 44 minutes, scanning the radio dial with the windows wide open.
“What is the magic that makes one’s eyes, sparkle and gleam, light up the skies”
I knew that The Orb used this sample (from Raymond Scott’s “Lightworks”) somewhere, and it bothered me for a long time because I could never quite work out where. I thought for sure it was on either Cydonia or Bicycles & Tricycles but I listened to both of those and came up empty. Turns out I was wrong; it was used by the Transit Kings, an Orb offshoot that I had completely forgotten about. I guess I can’t really be blamed for that – despite their marketing as a “legendary supergroup”, the Transit Kings never really gained any traction. Maybe because they weren’t really a supergroup, but rather The Orb’s B-team, featuring main Orbman Alex Patterson, founding member Jimmy Cauty, bassist/comedian Guy Pratt, and occasional collaborator Dom Beken. Granted, Jimmy Cauty was still kind of a big name, given that he had been rarely heard from since the KLF so spectacularly exploded in 1991, but in true Jimmy Cauty tradition, he split from the band before they’d had much of a chance to record anything.
Astronaut’s Report: It feels good
Consider this: 25 years before The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld was released, Pink Floyd were an R&B act who had yet to release a single record. The Orb’s status as “the Pink Floyd of the 90’s” certainly gathered them a lot of attention – I suspect their label loved it – and the group themselves were more than happy to play along. 25 years on and Ultraworld feels just as classic as the good Floyd albums do. Granted they never sounded a whole lot like Floyd, but they did hit the same vibes. Mellow, psychedelic, and trippy, they were the band of choice for strung-out teenagers and exhausted ravers alike.
This year in review is going to be a little different than my previous ones. As always there’s tons of discussion about whether or not 2015 was a good year for music, always a fun discussion, but for me the answer is unquestionably yes. New albums by a lot of my favorites, including Susumu Hirasawa, Echolyn, Rip Slyme, Magma, Glass Hammer, Dan Deacon, Flynt Flossy, Todd Rundgren, They Might be Giants (twice!), and Datarock (sort of), among other stuff I’m a fan of, like The Tangent, Dam-Funk, Steven Wilson, Sons of Kemet, Towa Tei, The Orb, Sufjan Stevens, The Black Dog, Beardfish, Battles, IZZ, and Squarepusher. Among several others I can’t remember right now. Now none of this is making the year-end lists, except of course the Sufjan album. Sadly I’m not really able to make a list myself, as there’s just been so much good stuff that I haven’t really been able to digest it all, not that I’ve been able to the last couple years either. I have no clue what my “album of the year” is going to be and probably won’t until we’re well into 2017. It’s just been that sort of year. So instead, I figured I’d put together some disparate thoughts on a few albums I’ve listened to this year and call it a day. Year end lists are kinda dumb anyway. So let’s get started: