Coming together in Kent in 1989, Phil and Paul Hartnoll, collectively known as Orbital, have had something of a strange ride. After over three decades of starts and stops, the brothers are back for their first album in nearly five years, with the release of Optical Delusion, out February 17th.
Starting off with a bang, “Ringa Ringa” (The Old Pandemic Folk Song)” opens with a classic drum and bass groove, complimented by deftly crafted vocal samples and digital piano melody, creating an upbeat, if unique, soundscape, inviting the listener to dance.
Robotic in a literal way, “Day One (feat. Dina Ipavic)” blends dark techno with the industrial, coming out with a driving, dystopian sound made up of beats and electro squeaks that sound like they were created by Soviet computer programmers before the Wall fell.
“Are You Alive (feat. Penelope Isles)” is traditionally melodic. The drum machine and digital piano provide a fine backdrop for Isles’s all-too-human vocals, expressing heart-breaking truth and vulnerability in lines like “I really don’t wanna get fucked in a working world.”
Frequency (feat. The Little Pest)” goes full UFO, opening with spoken audio tracks that can only be described as ‘alien’ coming up regularly through the rest of the runtime. even as the drum machine and sampler take over, for a surprisingly mid-tempo track, full of Sci-Fi laser sounds.
Back to their melodic Dance roots, “The New Abnormal” could make a statue move. High tempo and catchy like the flu, the typically impeccable drum machines are joined by synth instruments and exoplanet wails.
“Home (feat. Anna B Savage)” brings things back down again with a more relaxed drum and base style that, while less frenetic for parts of the track, is no less motivating, Savage’s vocals only help to carry things along. Coming in hard with driving bass, accompanied by a cockney rap vocal and disco keyboards, and later drum-machine and techno-beats, “Dirty Rat – with Sleaford Mods” is perfectly prepared Dance fare that could fit in at the best clubs and Raves.
“Requiem For the Pre Apocalypse” belies its title, managing to be oddly upbeat, with few signs of doom and gloom over the five-minute run time, getting downright bright at many times with tasteful coral pieces, and ethereal synth galore in the last three minutes or so. Then again, it could be a linguistic double-bluff, a requiem done for something that is already dead and gone.
Perplexing as it is pleasant, “What A Surprise (feat. The Little Pest) features a collage of different sounds, from deep drums and synth strings to spoken vocal tracks and theremin wails, packing a maze worth of twists and turns into just over three minutes.
“Moon Princess (feat. Coppe)” is surreal in the truest sense, hitting the ears like the soundtrack to a dream after too much curry. Traditional Indian instruments and styles abound, adding to the more expected beats and rhythms of British Post-Acid House.
Image credit: Kenny McCracken