William Orbit Information

'Here, try these.', I was told by my favoured record store owner, 'You will probably find them a bit cheesy.'. And he passed across Strange Cargo and Strange Cargo 2. All it took was hearing 'Via Caliente' and 'Ruby Heart' to know that these were albums I wanted.

Since then I have been quietly watching out for the appearances of the man. It turns out, once you are familiar with his music, that he appears all over the place. Snippets of his music appears in movies (Two tracks in 'Virtuosity' for instance), compilation albums (eg. Virgin's excellent 'A Brief History of Ambient' series), collaborating with other artists (eg. Caroline Lavelle's 'Spirit' album) [1] or being breezilly used in the background of shows on television. Indeed at the time of writing this page TV3, one of the four main TV channels in New Zealand, has been using the track 'El Ninjo' as the background music to their weather report. [2]

In short he is one of those largely unsung people who appear in the background always bringing a touch of the special to whatever projects they are involved in. Perhaps because of this behind the scenes style his music tends to be hard to describe. It's eclectic ranging from almost flemenco style classical guitar pieces to strong, deep bass, lush synth ambient pieces. Given that his attitude to music is one of 'If it sounds good, do it.' this variability in style is unsurprising but makes the title theme for his albums most apt. Each album is strange cargo indeed.

What is consistant about each track is the feeling that each one is trying to tell you, either part of or all of, a story. Sounds odd I know, but each track is like a snippet taken from something larger. This isn't to say the tracks feel incomplete but more that they radiate the self assured air of being part of something bigger. As such they tend to involve me as I speculate about what they are a part of, why they are styled a particular way and the like. It's a different feeling from most other albums that I have and something that makes this music special to me.


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Strange Cargo

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Label: I.R.S. Records
Number: 077771-31952-5
Year: 1988

  1. Via Caliente
  2. Fire and Mercy
  3. Jump Jet
  4. Silent Signals
  5. The Secret Garden
  6. Out of the Ice
  7. Scorpion
  8. Riding to Rio
  9. Jimmy's Jag
  10. The Mighty Limpopo
  11. Theme Dream
Running Time: 38:00

This is a quirky wee album literally full of odds and end tracks that William has obviously been thinking about and playing with for sometime. As such it is something of a mix starting off with wonderful guitar piece 'Via Caliente' and jumping around from sweeping atmosphere pieces, like 'Out of the Ice', to quirky and lively pieces like 'Scorpion'. As a whole it's much lighter in tone than more recent albums as William's trademark deep bass rhythms aren't fully developed on this album.

This does confer one major advantage, it can be listened to on a variety of equipment without suffering majorly. Don't let that discourage you though, there are some particularly wonderful tracks on this album and due to it's varied mix it is a good album to listen to when you want something that chops and changes around in style. My favourite tracks are 'Via Caliente' (No surprise there. :-) ), 'Jimmys Jag', 'Jump Jet' and 'Out of the Ice'.

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Strange Cargo 2

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Label: I.R.S. Records
Number: 022071-30552-5
Year: 1990

  1. Dark Eyed Kid
  2. Atom Dream
  3. Ruby Heart
  4. El Santo
  5. Dia Del Muerto
  6. 777
  7. The Thief and the Serpent
  8. The Last Lagoon
  9. Millenium
  10. Painted Rock
Running Time: 46:48

Second in the series this starts to show the shift in style that William gravitates towards in his later albums. Deeper rhythms begin to feature more and more of the tunes are lively pieces, less of the more atmospheric (more soundscape) style. The first three tracks are the best with the first two having a slightly melancholic tone to them. 'Ruby Heart' is noteable for being one of the first tracks to feature a strong vocal presence as part of the tune, rather than the more usual spoken snatches of text used as part of the background texture to the tune.

Although the use of those snatches is best displayed in 'Atom Dream' where the little spoken snippets lend the tune a complete story that it is telling. Although this is probably just me being fanciful. It's the sort of album that you have to like William's work to appreciate all of it. And as such not really one for people wanting to sample and try his music.

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Strange Cargo 3

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Label: Virgin Records Ltd (Manufactured by I.R.S.Records)
Number: 724382-77032-9
Year: 1993

  1. Water from a Vine Leaf
  2. Into the Paradise
  3. Time to get Wise
  4. Harry Flowers
  5. A Touch of the Night
  6. The Story of Light
  7. Gringatcho Demento
  8. A Hazy Shade of Random
  9. Best Friend, Paranoia
  10. The Monkey King
  11. Deus Ex Machina
  12. Water Babies
Running Time: 63:53

This is an interesting album in that it veres between ambient and an almost popular style from track to track. Indeed it's first track, 'Water from a Vine Leaf', was one of Orbit's more popular tracks with it making it onto the top 50 list in the UK. The album starts off fairly lively, begining with three particularly good tracks and then settles back into a more relaxed ambient style. Stand out tracks are 'Water from a Vine Leaf', 'Into the Paradise', 'Time to get Wise', 'Best Friend, Paranoia', 'Gringatcho Demento' and 'Deus Ex Machina'.

Most reviews I have seen rate this as his best album. I must admit that while it is good I have a taste more for Strange Cargo Hinterland as it is much more even in tone and style. And I expect that once his next album is released that I'll prefer that as the Strange Cargo series has been definitely improving with each release.

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Strange Cargo Hinterland

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Label: N-Gram Records
Number: 745099-92952-7
Year: 1995

  1. Million Town
  2. She Cries your Name
  3. Montok Point
  4. Hulaville
  5. Kiss of the Bee
  6. El Ninjo
  7. Crimes of the Future
  8. The Name of the Wave
  9. Say Anything
  10. Lost in Blue
  11. Hinterland
  12. The Last Dream of Lucy Mariner
Running Time: 60:39

William deliberately changed the name of this album away from Strange Cargo 4 to prevent prospective newcomers to his music from feeling that they have to collect the entire set of music to enjoy this album. That said this album is a continuation of a gradual shift in William's music to a more beat oriented and slightly brooding style. Stand out tracks include 'She Cries Your Name' featuring Beth Orton's vocals, 'Montok Point' which is a bouncy beat interspersed with a dry narrative, 'El Ninjo' a strong and light guitar piece and 'Hulaville' which is just a fun track to listen too.

Unlike the previous albums this one tends to flow between tracks a bit better. While it isn't seamless, and the odd track placement is mildly incongruous, the album as whole works well and is an upbeat listening experience. I usually come away smiling after listening to this, especially after hearing the infectiously cheerful 'El Ninjo'. It's best listened to on a stereo with reasonable bass response as most tracks are underpinned with a deep bass beat that lends the album a warm feel to it. Headphones alone, well cheap ones anyway, aren't quite capable of doing these tracks justice.

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[1] He has remixed quite a few people. Particular surprises include a remix of Peter Gabriel's 'Mercy Street' which I have always preferred over the original but never known that William was involved, working on Prince's 'Batdance', Seal's 'Crazy' and Malcom McClaren's 'Deep in Vogue'. All tracks that I have liked but not known for quite some time that William Orbit was mixed in there in the background.

[2] This is something of a cute joke given the predominance of that weather cycle's effect on our weather here. Indeed given that the previous track used was an instrumental cut of Crowded Houses' 'Weather With You', for which the main chorus was "Wherever you go, you always take the weather with you", then my suspicion is that music programmer for TV3 has a healthy sense of humour.

Now half the reason for watching the weather report, for me, has now become listening to the background music used and seeing what kind of reference or joke it is making.

Philip R. Banks
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