The latest album from UK electronica pioneers Orbital, entitled the Blue Album, finds the Hartnoll brothers returning to their roots. The Blue Album makes no concessions to current trends, instead staying close to the sound Orbital created on their earliest releases. The CD, which said to be their last, is a fitting finale.
The Blue Album follows The Altogether and The Middle of Nowhere. These releases showcased many of Orbital’s strengths, but left some fans unsatisfied. They weren’t as even as earlier CD’s, and strayed further from the band’s established sound. The music on the Blue Album is not as innovative as some of their recent work, but may be more fan-friendly.
Orbital starts things off with Transients, one of the stranger tracks on the CD. The music begins with seemingly random electronic squeeks and squawks. The mix of sounds seem almost like the sound of an orchestra warming up before a concert. Behind the burbling synths, Orbital adds strings sounds, and arpeggiating synths that sound fall somewhere between ELO and Phillip Glass. By the end of the track, the random synth sounds have faded away, leaving only the driving synth and string sounds.
The next track, Pants, returns to Orbital’s techno roots. The track is built around hammering percussion, a minimal bass line, arpeggiating synths and synth string stabs. Tunnel Vision keeps things firmly in techno territory, with its driving sequences, machine drums and dark vibe. Orbital drops in several interesting breaks, contrasting the hammering rhythms with relaxed, almost ambient sections.
The next track, Lost, slows things down, and has more of an ambient or chill-out feel. The track features string washes, echoing synth solo, and slower drums, echoing some of Vangelis‘ work on films like Blade Runner or Antarctica.
You Lot is one of the longest tracks on the CD, and also one of the most interesting. The beginning brings things back to techno, with pounding, almost industrial beats. About a minute and a half into the track, though, Orbital breaks things down to a chordal sequence with more traditional orchestral sounds. On top of this, Orbital layers a sample of a sermon-like speech that discusses the fact that man is gaining power over life that used to be attributed to God. The speaker cautions that if man is going to assume the power of God, man has to also assume the responsibility. The last section of the track combines combines the more orchestral sounds of the middle with the techno sounds of the beginning.
Bath Time is a quirky instrumental that sounds like a Wendy Carlos Switched-On arrangement of a folk song. According to Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll, they wanted to do a track with a Clockwork Orange feel to it. They have a good ear for the sound of seventies synthesis and Carlos’s pioneering vocoder work, adding interest to a simple melody.
Acid Pants may put off some listeners. It starts with a vocal chant, “When the laugh track starts, then the fun starts”. This repeats throughout the track, with the addition of standard techno drums and Roland TB-303 bassline. A remix of this that emphasizes the drums and bass, instead of the chant, would be more satisfying.
Easy Serv slows things down again, to what Orbital calls “weird supermarket muzak”. It’s a strange track to follow the techno Acid Pants, but is strange enough to be interesting. Orbital has expressed interest in doing soundtrack work, and this has the simple, almost quaint beauty, of Eno‘s tracks on Music for Films.
The final track, One Perfect Sunrise, is a progressive techno/trance cut. It features the evocative vocals of Lisa Gerrard, of Dead can Dance. The track combines beatless, almost ambient sections, with techno beats and orchestral sounds. The extended track has a very visual quality to it, and the complex mix stretches the limits of techno.
In many ways, the Blue Album is a return to the Orbital of their first two CDs, best known as the Green Album and the Brown Album. Their first album began with “Moebius”, which featured a sampled voice repeating “There is this theory of the Moebius; a twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop.” Orbital’s latest is a return to their beginning, and should be a welcome listen for fans of the Orbital sound.