Every so often I find myself in the position of writing about a band who have been in existence for years, but whose output is relatively new to me. I’m never sure whether of not this is an advantage when confronted with an album of new music from them. After all many fans of long established bands often dread the words “here’s one of our new ones” at a gig. Such is the case with Electric Orange, a band who I have been aware of for some time but never really got into with any real passion. For me there are simply not enough hours in the day to listen closely to everything that comes out, and I often think that it is a matter of luck that I hear something that really grabs me.
So it was with great interest and curiosity that Electric Orange’s new triple album landed in my inbox (actually a triple album plus a side-long extra track ‘Gnosis’) from Germany’s Adansonia Records, an imprint of whom regular readers will already be aware. I also considered it to be a challenge to try to get my head around what is effectively six and a half sides of music, with one track taking each of the six sides of the extremely well put together vinyl box set.
As the title suggests, this album is being released to celebrate the band’s twenty five years, and has been recorded between 2013 and 2017. To try and encapsulate this sprawling work is extremely tricky, but let’s see how it goes. From reading up on Electric Orange the influences that are mostly apportioned to them as those of Tangerine Dream and ‘Krautrock’. From this we’re already into challenging territory without having listened to a note. So, as I usually end up doing, I’m going to abandon any sense of place for the band and say what I hear.
The first track/ side of the set ‘Continuum’ is the longest, a twenty-three minute track that is infused with what seems to be an approach that is laid back and open. Like all the tracks here, and indeed all the band’s more recent output, this is an improvised number that seems to flow out of the speakers and into the ears it a way that is both easy and effortless, without being passive or ambient. There are melodies and there is momentum, especially during a more upbeat central passage that puts the listener firmly on a course that goes out into space. This is underpinned by a tribal rhythm that seems relentless and almost ritualistic.
The start of second track/ side ‘Under the Nun’ immediately tells you that this is not just going to be a collection of tunes that are broadly the same. Starting in a far more funky fashion this number has some jazz elements that are markedly more evident than in ‘Continuum’, and seems to be a altogether more complex and nuanced track than it’s predecessor. This improvisation has Electric Orange in a far more restless mood with more frequent changes up and down. There is a sense here that you never really quite know what is going to come next, one minute you’re listening to some smooth space rock, the next some real messed up cut and paste jams bordering on the atonal. All the time though is that tribal drumming… which seems to be the soul of the band, everything seems to develop around this.
Next up (digitally, this is not in the vinyl box set) is ‘Gnosis’, and again from the first bars you can tell that this track is going to be different again. Darker and perhaps even more intense, this track is like a raging storm that gradually subsides into what seems to be a peaceful and ostensibly serene soundscape. Yet there is always something just below the surface threatening to bubble up. Gradually the track empties out to something very minimal before building up again, and once more with a sinister undertone.. but also with some beautifully arranged harmonics. Like the other tracks here ‘Gnosis’ takes you on an individual journey, one that is not perhaps where you expected to go… and all the better for it.
The middle vinyl disc comprises two, I’m assuming, linked, tracks: ‘Misphonia IV’ and ‘Misphonia V’. These, again I’m assuming, are continuations of last year’s Misphonia album; which I’m now going to need to return to at some point. Misphonia means hatred of sound, and ‘IV’ is a dark brooding number which would delight fans of Ebbe/ Precession – era Anthroprophh for instance. I have to admit that this is something of a revelation for me. I knew that Electric Orange were influenced to ‘Krautrock’, and that comes through here; but there are some really bleak and ambient influences at play here that meld together in a dark dissonance that is quite compelling. This is an amazing black hole of a track that sucks in everything around it.
The opening of ‘Mishphonia V’ rather reminded me of Division Bell-era Pink Floyd with its rich sound underpinned by a sort of melancholic menace. Things soon takes a darker, and initially more simplistic, tone though. Back comes the tribal drum patterns below a rather minimalist soundscape that gives the listener space to breathe and reflect. Here it is the bass that is providing most of the variance before the band begin to build up the intensity as the percussion and electronics take the music through periods of dissonance and melody… while all the time building the drama of the track/ side. Together these two ‘Misphonia’ tracks make for a fine album in their own right. Rather marvellous.
On to the final LP of the set. The beginning of ‘Faint’ sounds very clean after the veiled bleakness of the previous two tracks/ sides. There is a space-like feeling to the track immediately, and openness that is quite freeing after the claustrophobia of the previous two. At first there is a warm gentleness that settles into a mantra-like repeating pattern that imprints itself firmly on the listeners mind. On the surface this seems quite straight forward, but like a lot of space music there is an increasing amount going on underneath as the band take off for the stars. In the background are, as always, those signature drum patterns, while a constant drone gives the track/ side a baseline heft on which to build. This is one of those tracks that is great late at night when you just want you let your mind go and explore your own universe of possibilities.
Last up on this odyssey of discovery is ‘Residuum’, which once again marks a change of pace. Back is the minimalism and emptiness, initially reminding me of the band’s Dirk Jan Müller’s solo project Cosmic Ground. Here, though, as the track develops, you can, perhaps more than anywhere else, see the breadth of influences that the members of Electric Orange bring to the mix. Here in this beautiful soundscape (a word I keep using because it is so appropriate for so much of this music) that manages to envelop many different genre from the last fifty or so years, and is thus a really appropriate way to complete a celebration of the band’s twenty five years in existence. ‘Residuum’ is a track that in many ways sounds utterly timeless. The minimalist bleakness seems symbolic of the emptiness of space, but could also reflect a profound inner emptiness… an emptiness that nevertheless contains beauty. I watched ‘Blade Runner 2049’ at my local IMAX yesterday and it struck me this morning how this would work as a soundtrack to those never ending bleak city- and landscapes. There’s despair and melancholia here but also, as the track progresses, a sense of stoic defiance. This is not how I expected Electric Orange to be and, during the course of this well over two hours of music (including ‘Gnosis’) I have found my opinion of the band to have been transformed. And as ‘Residuum’ fades away into the sound of a solitary dog I find myself impelled to begin this great sonic journey again.
The sheer length and depth of this box set makes buying it and listening to it quite a commitment. I am sure their existing followers will have already jumped at the chance to own such an artefact (and Adansonia Records have done a great job putting this together). For those not so familiar with the band, like myself, there may be some reticence to make the temporal and monetary investment required. For me it has been worthwhile spending time with the band (and you can stream the whole thing on bandcamp to reduce the risk). I had previously thought Electric Orange were a band defined by such as ‘Continuum’ and ‘Faint’, great tracks but of a sort that did not instantly wow me. It is the darker side of the band that has been the real revelation though, with ‘Gnosis’, Misphonia IV & V’, and ‘Residuum’ really standing out as powerful sonic statements; while ‘Under the Nun’ is different again with it’s punning title and funky grooves. Together this collection of tracks makes for an amazingly powerful evening of listening. I’m pleased I invested, and may well be looking to their back catalogue for further sonic acquisitions.
The vinyl version of EOXXV comes as three LPs in heavy duty sleeves packed in a deluxe slipcase box in leather optics. As usual the album was mastered by Krautrock legend Eroc. The included download code contains an additional bonus track (‘Gnosis’):
– 411 x black/orange vinyl, 180g, hand numbered
– 111 x clear/orange splatter vinyl, hand numbered
Available from Adansonia Records.