Orbital - Optical Delusion (London Recordings)

Orbital – Optical Delusion (London Recordings)

As a fifty-something it’s easy to say that ‘I Wish I Had Duck Feet’, only for the reply to come, well it’s ‘Sad But True’. As someone who was never scared of water, quite indigently I reply ‘Are We Here?’, only to be offered a box of ‘Quality Seconds’. Of course, none of these make any sense, but were a way of weaving in tracks from Snivilisation, my favourite Orbital album. This was brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll’s third album, an electronic duo who had taken their name from Greater London’s Orbital motorway. The two had been active in the rave scene in the early days of acid house and the M25 had been central to this, so Orbital it was. It seems barely yesterday that Snivilisation had been such a pivotal album throughout my 1990s and I still find this album to be my go-to chill-out journey. With their tenth long player, Optical Delusion now on the horizon, following previous releases, the likes of In Sides, The Middle Of Nowhere and Monsters Exist, being among just 3 of their previous 9 albums, my question is will Optical Delusion cut it 29 years on from Snivilisation and 34 years since the Hartnolls recorded ‘Chime’ on their dad’s 4-track tape deck?

For artists who’ve stayed at the top of their game longer than anyone from the post-1988 Class of Acid House, I’m certainly hopeful. Pressing play and hearing the sounds of ‘Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song)’ deposited by my speakers, it’s reassuring to hear the frantic beats, and the pace of the track is what I had hoped. Having just emerged from one pandemic, this number harks back to another and not some reference to a pandemic of mobile ringtones. Ghostly vocals are offered ‘…Ring-a-ring o’ roses. A pocket full of posies. A tishoo! A tishoo! We all fall down…” can be picked from among the electronic melody. Childhood memories come flooding back, when we knew nothing of the 14th-century horror, that later in life would see a similar path of infection affect my class of contemporaries. The frantic beats filled with nervous energy, are infectious, something I’m sure was not lost on the creators, and comprises vocal contributions from The Mediaeval Baebes. Very Bill and Ted, although not just some teenage joke – these artists, formerly of Miranda Sex Garden, Paul had apparently stumbled across when trawling his archives. Describing their version of the song, he said “my hackles went up” and as we can now hear, the result was a worthwhile exploration.

The album serves 10 songs, where the Hartnolls have, as always, assembled a cast of vocalists with which to add vocal shine. ‘Day One’ features Dina Ipavic, a very operatic tone, under which the brothers’ techno patterns are drawn. This is another fierce series of BPMs, where scratchy tones compete with occasional synthesised runs. ‘Are You Alive’ follows and features Bella Union signing Penelope Isles, aka brother and sister act Lily and Jack Walter. Here the question is posed regarding the planet’s fragile status, “…by the summer dies, I’ll be alive, it’ll be the first one you couldn’t give a toss for…” and I was certainly of this frame of mind by August last year. Placed alongside the delicious tangle of the mood Orbital create, this seems very apt. As the Earth heads toward oblivion, you can’t just “…pick your heart up and give it a little clean…”, adding to Orbital’s series of existential questions, starting with Snivilisation’s ‘Are We Here’ and ‘Where Is It Going’ from 2012s Wonky, featuring vocal from the late Stephen Hawking.

Further wonders are provided by electronic vocal morphing, on ‘Frequency’ featuring The Little Pest, the mysterious vocalist who also appears on the penultimate track ‘What A Surprise’. Here warped voices announce in the first of these “…you are the frequency, if you want to…”, followed by sounds harking back to the early days of rave with a series of whoops, blips, bops and high-frequency beats. For old rave heads, this is the warm-up, dropping metallic sounds found on the latter of the two tracks, as demonic whispers come from the speakers. What follows is the industrial ‘The New Abnormal’ and is for those of us getting used to the new normal. Anna B Savage is the vocalist who features on the all too telling ‘Home’, where the vocalist tells of the meltdown the World had undergone, “It’s too hot today. This mega city chokes away, it’s stifling heat, wobbles the concrete. 12-hour days, where plastic buys more plastic. It will all stay and never decay…”. I’ll stop here because this modern-day horror story, all too real. From my first listen, I dismissed this track as not really Orbital. The further I absorb these tracks, the more willing I am to listen and understand the message. This album is profound.

On the same lines, next up Nottingham’s Sleaford Mods take to the stage in ‘Dirty Rat’, vocally anyway and the rave is back on. Jason Williamson injects his highly strung energy into the fierce electronic landscape that Messrs Hartnoll have laid. Entering the stage with a rumbling bassline, the memorable “…shut up, you don’t know what you’re on about, you voted for them, look at ya’, you dirty rat…”, never once explaining himself, but listeners will know from where this is coming from. A fast and absorbing number that has written its place in history, this side of Covid anyway. We’re on the home stretch now and with ‘Requiem For The Pre Apocalypse’ announcing itself with a series of dirty notes and broken beats, this might be a requiem, “…but not as we know it Jim”. A drum and bass-filled beat that tap the dead souls on the forehead, as the ravers hold their hands in the air, a tribute to those lost. ‘What A Surprise’ is next, but we’ve been here, as its even dirtier bass mingles with warped voices “…I have, I have, I have no evidence…”.So dirty, and so disorientated is the mix, the vocals become part and parcel with the beats. ‘Moon Princess’, is at the end of this tenth journey into sound with Orbital and you’d be forgiven for mistaking vocalist Coppe for Eartha Kitt’s gravelly tones, breathing life into the song. Offering her sultry presentation “…try to make rational decisions…”, the vocal leads the listener. An electronic water pistol squirts, soaking the assembled crowd, as another M25 classic hits the decks. I may not be listening to this quite as much in 30 year’s time, but as an album’s worth of tunes, these have meaning and are not just some post-rave come down, I simply love it.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.