Orbis Max: Cyber Cloud Indie
Pop Rock Goes Tech
For over a decade musicians like Mariah Carey and others have been able to record remotely. Studio musicians need not to be one site to record their parts for an album. A few years ago I was impressed when I heard that the heavy metal band Whiplash, who are based in Upstate New York, had an absentee drummer who lived in the UK but would fly in and meet them to play tours and gigs. Whiplash was using ProTools to help them achieve this. Bands have been putting their scratch tracks on Soundcloud for years to send to their members to learn new material. Some bands like Orbis Max now do 100 percent of their production online now. What we had in the past are garage and basement bands recording on reel to reel tape players and later cassettes, but today I can guess you can call this new wave of music making cyber cloud indie because the music is shaped in a cyber space.
Orbis Max has just released a collection of tracks called Pop Rock Compilation that they have been assembling since 2014. They are a virtual orchestra; each member is kind of a lone wolf that contributes their musical expertise without human contact. When they are at their best they are emulating the Golden Age of recording with horn arrangements and MIDI string sections. You probably are familiar with the elaborate productions of bands like Wings, the Grass Roots, and many a Motown group.
Pop Rock Compilation is all over the road and I’m fine with that – I always think the artist should be free to try different styles. “Love Will Keep Us Together” is a good example of their 70’s rock orchestral sound. It brings to mind Wings or 10CC with its nice slide guitar intro, and could be one of their best compositions. The slide guitar sections are used to transition into the bigger horn and MIDI string sections. Maybe this the direction Orbis should go? They are at their best here, as the melodies flow into each other in a majestic way on this track. “Love Will Keep Us Together” was officially released on April 1st.
Some of my favorite cuts are the ones with a reggae rock groove. I like this sound and a lot new bands have embraced raga rock since the 80s.
“Without Love” is psyche and reggae rock and has a some nice vocal harmonies in the introduction. The song is in flux kind of like what Jesus Jones was doing in the 90s and Echo & the Bunnyman was doing in the 80s. It’s based on some of ideas that are used in the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”. As the track fades out you can hear passages from Jimi Hendrix’s “3rd Stone from the Sun.” What else were headphones invented for?
“Standing Next to Me” is another cut that has a retro psyche flavor. It has a bright horn introduction and reminds of something the Move, Jeff Lynne’s pre ELO band would do.
“Other Plans” is also in this fashion. Bouncy, jangly, with a minor bridge. A happy song it could be compared to some of the carefree music that the Small Faces would make.
Orbis then switches gears again with “Can’t Live Without Your Love”. It has a beautiful Motown inspired intro with horns and simulated strings. The vocals are different than you would expect with an arrangement like this. You would expect R&B vocals even though the vocals on this track work well. I would like to hear a gospel R&B vocalist handle this song Detroit style a la the Four Tops.
“Stickin’ Around” is straight up power pop 80’s style like Huey Lewis & the News’ Robert Palmer. It is the kind of song that could bring people to the dance floor. It has a slick exchange between the saxophone and guitar in the instrumental break. This recording is definitely radio and jukebox caliber.
All the tracks on Orbis’ Pop Rock Compilation are tasteful and very well done. The collection is so diverse even though their main style is pop rock or power pop. The power pop jury will argue that it is not true power pop in the purest sense but what matters is what you hear and not what you argue about when it comes to music. Orbis takes simple rock & roll structures that have been around and add beautiful and nicely placed vocal harmonies along with their ornamentation. The collection ends with “Letting Go”, a sentimental ballad.
Musical taste is all subjective and I’m certainly not Rex Reed the film critic that hated everything, but I have to say Orbis has so much diverse music anyone would find something that they would enjoy. I would love to have them take a stab at ska.
So aside from being musical satellites orbiting around a planet named Orbis Max in cyberspace, who is Orbis Max? Orbis Max was once a conventional band throughout the 1970s playing frat houses and keg parties in the San Diego’s North County area. They were the ultimate party band. Their repertoire was full of the rock standards of the day, and they refused to play disco when the craze hit the US at the time. Eventually things changed and the guys started families, moved and spread out. Orbis Max was active from 1970 until around 1979. The core members, from the days of playing live out of San Diego are Bruce Walker on keys, Jonny Viau on sax, Don Baake on guitar, Craig Carlstrom on bass and Dick Winter drums.
The current participants of Orbis live in Texas, North Carolina, California, Liverpool, and Maryland, and sometimes other locations. They have managed to keep their musical bond strong for over 40 years. You can imagine the trials and tribulations that might come up with any long distance relationship but these guys work nicely together. Bands that rehearse in the flesh often have scheduling challenges, ego firefights, and all sorts of drama. I would think that in order to make so many quality recordings under these circumstances you would have to be incredibly democratic.
“ I can assure you, that when we write a song, we don’t say let’s write a such and such style song today. The style really becomes evident when we start recording it. The songs take on a life of their own. With every overdub, the songs take on different flavors. So they evolve with every track that is added. We trust each others gut,” said Orbis’ spokesperson Craig Carlsrom. “We like to co-write with people,” they went on to say. “We’re not a working band anymore. We’re a writing and recording collective these days.”
He added: “Orbis is the house band and we bring in guest vocalists and players, for a guest appearance on a song. When you hear one of our songs, you know it’s Orbis playing. You just never know who’s gonna be singing.”
Orbis explained process of assembling “Other Plans.” “‘Other Plans’ was a big international production. Co-written with Ed Ryan in Maryland. Ed does the lead vox and a guitar part. Dennis George in North Carolina, lends a hand on backend vox. Wayne Ford of the The Ice Cream Man Power Pop & More show in Sweden sings the bridge with Rod Bennett, in Liverpool, doing the background vox in that part and the ‘ahhhs’ throughout the song.”
The track features Carlstrom on bass in Dallas and the rest of the core members in San Diego which are Walker on keys, Viau on saxes (real, not simulated), Winter on drums and Baake on guitars. It took several weeks to complete. “It got played on internet radio for months and made a few year end lists, and was included on one of the Ice Cream Man Power Pop and More compilation albums… We’ve appeared on five of his compilation albums,” he added.
Aside from radio play Orbis Max like many bands, conventional or virtual, is heard by people sharing files and online listening. I personally am such a technology scrub that the band had to send me their mp3 to play on my dvd player. The 20th century still has its grip on me.
Orbis Max is always working on something. They don’t tour and they depend on online distribution of their music. I liken them to a magazine or a kind of a musical periodical with ongoing musical installments. Orbis describes itself as a writing and recording collective and that is a good description. Here is where you can hear the compilation: