Herd Of Instinct
The Wire, 1994
by Simon Reynolds
Talk Talk always were a band teetering on the brink of 'too-much-ness'. One friend couldn't handle "Spirit Of Eden" because the woodwinds made him think of the theme to "Pogle's Wood", the psychedelic animated children's show. .O.rang are Talk Talk's rhythm section, Lee Harris and Paul Webb, and sho'nuff, "Herd Of Instinct" is as brave and foolish an odyssey into neo-prog excess as any mounted by their former band.
.O.rang's methodology is similar to the jam-and-chop approach of Can and Miles Davis during the early Seventies. The seven compositions on Herd were edited down from material generated during long improv sessions. As well as taking on 20 different musical and programming chores themselves, Harris & Webb draw on a floating pool of 16 musicians (including Graham Sutton of Bark Psychosis and Matt Johnson). That's a lot of sonic matter for them to daub on the walls of their grotto-like mixes.
Like their prime influences (Can, Miles, Fela Kuti, African Headcharge), .O.rang's music combines groove and atmospherics, funk and ambient spatiality. And like those bands, .O.rang's vibe is ethnodelic and shamanistic. Each musician is represented on the inner sleeve by a tribal totem or charm, while the artwork and captions like "a view of the vision mountain from the ageless collective unconscious" propound a vague pro-aboriginal peoples eco-politics. This "time to get back in touch with what we in the West have lost" shtick may be a tad too Wobble-y to take seriously, but at its best .O.rang's music convinces you they really are plugged into a primal matrix of voodoo energy. The opener, ".O.rang" is like A.R.Kane circa "69'" if they'd had a shit-hot rhythm section underneath the textural fantasia, while the roiling polyrhythms and cosmic guitar of "Little Brother" recall little-heard NYC mystics Saqqara Dogs.
Perhaps the most ambitious track is "Anaon, The Oasis". It starts with eerily treated, transcendental moans echoing through subterranean chambers a la Can's "Augmn" or Grateful Dead's "What's Become Of the Baby" . Then Webb intones a fragile, dejected melody in a glottal quaver uncannily like Talk Talk's Mark Hollis, over a meandering groove. Oozy Jon Hassell-like trumpet and cloudbusting female backing vocals finally push "Anoan" into the vicinity of Kate Bush's under-rated "The Dreaming". "Loaded Values" is even better. Moondust vibes, braying harmonica and blues guitar trail around a run-away-train groove; decelerating as if hitting a gradient, the track mutates into something close to techno, as Colette Meury's scat-vocals vault skywards.
Like their first band, .O.rang valiantly walk that precarious line between garishly over-ripe and gorgeously overwhelming, but only rarely slip into the prog-swamp. Herd Of Instinct is a most worthy addition to the post-rock canon.