Sweet like Chocolate (Hills)
It has been undoubtedly heartwarming to see The Orb restored, over recent years, to their rightful place as a big hitting dance music act in both the live and recorded arenas. Their latest album Prism is their most successful – but also their most mainstream – effort, which perhaps raises the question ‘what of its more esoteric, experimental side that we also love?’
Enter Chocolate Hills. Alex Paterson’s ‘other’ band is, on the surface, like a mirror image of The Orb. As they take to the stage at the Rough Trade East around 8pm to the applause and curiosity of those lucky enough to find out about this very last minute show, the childlike, ascending notes of ‘The Barn’ gently heralding the start of the set, the sight through the murky purple light of Paterson on the decks and Paul Conboy (Bomb The Bass, A.P.E.) sat next to him, laptop open, can’t help but bring their rounded big brother act to mind. Paterson slips a train buffet announcement – “baguettes… specialty teas and coffees at 75 pence” – into the end of the track and raises a laugh (we’d refer you to the slogan on his t-shirt: ‘Ow Much?!) and it feels like we’re on lush, luxuriously familiar territory.
The more we’re drawn in, however, the more the differences appear. This is definitely, and defiantly ambient music for a start – there’s no sign of a pounding kick drum or acid line appearing here. But the input of Conboy is not inconsiderable. He has a microphone, which not only hilariously picks up the odd snippet of conversation between the pair, but also allows him to add his vocals, usually single notes added to the mix like another instrument, although the drunken sailor’s song that is ‘Compass I Fell In Love’ is an electrifying moment early on.
He’s also got what looks like a mouth controlled melodica, which not only looks great btu also lends a wistful, melancholic air to the tracks, predominately taken from the duo’s very recent Yarns From The Chocolate Triangle. It also – along with underplayed strums of guitars and piano chords – adds a soft, acoustic texture to the mainly electronic sonic palate. Folk ambient? Well, Ultramarine and Robert Wyatt invented that in 1993 with their collaborative United Kingdoms album, and if you loved that chalk-and-cheese combination then you’d surely find this very much to your taste.
The pair are clearly having fun too. When an unexpected noise suddenly jumps into the mix, startling them and the audience alike, they collapse in laughter like naughty schoolkids playing a prank. It’s not surprising really – although it can be lilting and reflective at times there’s something really soothing and therapeutic about the Chocolate Hills sound that manages to put smiles on faces all round.
If you’re looking for an example of just how confident they’re feeling, just check their last track tonight, ‘Rehip’, one of just two from their debut album A Pail of Air in the set. Rather than closing with explosions and fireworks, or the musical equivalent of them anyway, the track ebbs and flows, eventually slowly, imperceptibly disappearing like the tide retreating from a bay. This doesn’t stop it being rapturously received, and quite rightly so. The Orb may be the big name we’ve learned to depend upon, but with Chocolate Hills the right honorable Alex Paterson and Paul Conboy have hit on something new and even more wonderful to pursue. There’s gold in them there Hills!
Chocolate Hills play:
Scenic Stage, Dreamland
Leeds West Indian Centre
Butlin’s – Minehead
O2 Academy2 Birmingham
UEA The Waterfront
Creative Folkestone Quarterhouse