100 Greatest Albums of the 90’s: #16

Orbital – Orbital II

Bands like Orbital are about as common as dodo poo. Yes they’re techno, but somehow they don’t sound like the soundtrack to sweaty men and skimpy-clad women dancing mindlessly to a brain-dead kick-drum pattern.  The Hartnoll brothers recorded their debut single ‘Chime’ for the grand budget of ninety pence on their father’s tape deck. ‘Chime’ had something different about it; it had a European vibrancy so absent from the Chicago 4-on-the-floor clones. Their first album was good, but no one could have been prepared for ‘Orbital II’. It starts with the same looped sample that ‘Orbital I’ starts with, purely to infuriate fans into thinking they had bought a mis-pressing of their first album. Then there’s some scratching a skipping towards the start to make them think that their vinyl copy was less than mint. That, however, is where the joking ends and where they start really respecting their audience. Far less danceable and far more interesting, ‘Orbital II’ plays like an eight-part techno suite with as much diversity as creativity (bookended by a pair of looped and phased samples). ‘Planet Of The Shapes’ is a gently suspenseful sci-fi number; ‘Lush 3’ is a breathless rush through bright neon lights and dingy underpasses; ‘Remind’ is an intergalactic police chase while ‘Halcyon + On + On’ is a hazy, semiconscious drift in the jet-stream. ‘Halcyon’ was written for the brothers’ mother who was addicted to the tranquilizer Halcion for years. That’s another great thing about Orbital; their songs mean something. They summon up definite imagery and ideas. They stubbornly refuse to be non-entities. They never got better than ‘Orbital II’ which still stands as one of the best, most exciting and interesting pieces of electronic music since the genre began.
Listen to: Remind

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