Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra – World of Funk (2011)

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World of Funk is a highly-engaging triumph of world-infused funk. From the opening seconds of the record, the instrumentation is instantly intriguing. Shawn Lee holds nothing back with an impressively vast array of instruments here, and assisting musicians aside, Lee is quite a one-man show. Elliot Bergman plays kalimba, Stuart Bogie on alto clarinet, Andy Ross is on flute and saxophone, Michael Leonhart plays cornet, trumpet, mellophone, and vibraphone and Dom Glover is on trumpet. But Lee steals the show playing sitar, ektar, balaphone, tanpura, kalimba, steel drum, castanets, cithara, vibraphone, xylophone, bulbul tarang, charango, bouzoki, talking drum, and udu all over this record, giving it a rich, dimensional worldly flavor. The five vocalists further contribute to its brilliance with echo-laden eastern-influenced crooning and a sprinkling of funky tropicalia.

The album offers a lush textural soundscape which classies up any space it occupies – a rich sonic wallpaper deserving of the attention of any aspiring bohemian.

“Nao Vacila” is a powerfully funky track, with Bardo Martinez on the organ and bluesy guitar from Clutchy Hopkins, and Michael Leonhart firing off shots on the trumpet. And the fun low-fi retro-Latin stylings of “La Eterna Felicidad” would be perfectly at home on a record by A Band of Bees. The organ really locks in this track as a slow-groover.

From start to finish, this is a tour-de-force of heady, fat-bottomed funk with enough going on to keep you tuned in and jiving for the entirety of its nearly hour-long span. This is definitely an album worth picking up.

Perpetual Dawn: The Orb Has Arrived at Last!

It was Pledgemusic’s announcement which first alerted me to the monumental event which was pending in the summer of 2016. The Pledgemusic website reported that:

“On Friday 29th July 2016, electronic titans The Orb will perform their seminal debut album ‘Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld’ in full for the first time ever, to mark its 25th anniversary.

For this very special sliver jubilee gig, Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann will be joined on stage by the original cast of collaborators who helped create the magic on this influential, era-defining milestone, plus a special punk icon whose music heavily influenced The Orb.

Paul Cook of Sex Pistols fame will guest on drums and fellow punk legend, original Orb member and ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ co-writer Youth will join on bass.

Psychedelic-electronic-prog heroes Steve Hillage and partner Miquette Giraudy co-wrote ‘Supernova’ and ‘Backside Of The Moon’, and will also bring their mythical shamanistic magic to this special show.

If all that wasn’t coup enough fellow ‘Ultraworld’ contributors Andy Falconer, Tom Green and Hugh Vickers will also guest, whilst original Orb lighting wizard David Herman will transform Electric Brixton into a vintage fractal technical wonderland.

Amidst the late 80s fervor of acid house The Orb explored their own meandering tangent, drawing on hip hop sample culture, krautrock, kosmische, ambience and a wealth of unusual and unlikely sound sources. In doing so they pioneered a more horizontally-inclined alternative to the jacking trax emanating from discerning nightclubs’ main rooms.

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Following a limited number of prototype 12”s from early pre-Orb incarnations, ‘Ultraworld’ was The Orb’s first fully formed, double album realization of the sonic sculpture they’d been finessing, amidst a punk-schooled period of fertile, no-rules creativity.

The album was a critical and chart smash that soundtracked a generation. It still sounds amazing today and its influence on subsequent decades of dance music is immeasurable.”

It had already been a thrilling year – The Avalanches reissued their album, Since I Left You in the UK and Europe to the delight of fans the world over, the Ann Arbor label, Ghostly International reissued Telefon Tel Aviv’s ambient glitch epic Fahrenheit Fair Enough on sky blue wax, John Carpenter issued the second volume of his Lost Themes collection, electronic music veterans, Underworld released Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future to great critical acclaim, proving they still have every ounce of their musical prowess, Klaus Schulze and the late Pete Namlook released a box set of the first four volumes of their ambient Dark Side of the Moog series, and Brian Eno outdid himself for the hundredth time with the ethereal and meditative album, The Ship which had the astonishing ability to stop time with each play.

But it was the anticipation of this reunion of the icons of ambient house which captivated me for the remainder of the year. Sadly, there were delays with the production of the vinyl release. Many, many months passed with infrequent updates from the Live Here Now team. Eventually, the 3CD+DVD edition arrived in the States, but it was the triple blue vinyl edition I was really waiting to get my hand on. Thankfully, today – May 12, 2017 the long-awaited package arrived from the UK.

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The Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 was available exclusively from PledgeMusic or at The Orb show at the Royal Festival Hall in London on the 21st of April 2017. The CD edition also features interviews with Alex, Thomas, Youth, Paul Cook, Steve Hillage & Miquette Giraudy, all of whom participated in the event.

The 180g bright blue discs are housed in a heavy triple-gatefold jacket matching that of the CD+DVD release. The packaging and albums are of excellent quality all throughout, making this set well worth the wait.

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This is a wonderful treasure for any fan of The Orb, of chillout music, and for anyone who spent their college days on the backside of the moon. An exciting performance, expertly captured and mastered, documenting a real milestone event for all those involved.

If you buy only one tripped-out exclusive dub-inspired space music anniversary concert album reuniting a generation of the gods of ambient house this century… make it this one.

Breaking the Fourth Wall (Typographic LPs)

Einmusik - Kleine Nachtmusik (2005)

I downloaded the image above from Marshall Watson back in 2005. Marshall used to travel the dirtyforum back in the day and won the Underworld remix contest for his version of “Bird 1”). While in 2005 it was a challenge to identify the single he holds in the shot, times have certainly changed by 2016.  Feeding the image into Google’s reverse image search now immediately produces the single’s credits.

The album is Einmusik – “Kleine Nachtmusik” (“A Little Night Music”) – minimal tech-house distributed by Germany’s famous Kompakt label.  I have to applaud this cover for it’s ballsy simplicity, even though I know it’s been done before.  After sampling the single on YouTube eleven years after I’d first spotting the cover I decided it was just the sort of thing I should have in my collection.  A few moments later I secured a clean copy from a collector in the US and this evening it arrived at my door.  It’s amazing how far music collectors have come with the empowerment of the digital age.

Here’s XTC’s second studio LP from 1978 – Go 2.  For those unfamiliar with this record, the text continues and fills the entire reverse side of the LP sleeve.

XTC - Go 2 (1978)

Most of the Remixes… by Soulwax is another typographical cover, this one from 2007. The cover clocks in 552 characters of text.

Soulwax Remixes aka_Most Of The Remixes We've Made For Other People Over The Years Except For The One (2007)

Dubstep artist, Skream opted for a humorously post-modern fourth-wall cover for Skream presents The Freeizm Album in 2010.

_Skream ‎– The Freeizm Album (2010)

And no feature on typographic covers is complete without mentioning Howlin’ Wolf…

Howlin' Wolf ‎– The Howlin' Wolf Album (1969)

EDIT: A reader kindly informed me that I’d made at least one glaring omission – and I felt it was my duty to correct the error.  Here is the fantastic The Faust Tapes from 1973!

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And tonight I’m proud to add“Kleine Nachtmusik” to my collection… eleven years in the making.  Here’s my newly-acquired copy, fittingly pictured beside an image of Karl Hyde.

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If you know of any similar covers I’d love to see ’em!