Sunday, October 4, 2009

Orbital - Orbital II (The Brown Album)

"There is the theory of the Moebius . . . a twist in the fabric of space where time becomes a loop. Where time becomes a loop. Where time becomes a loop. Wh-Where t-time b-becomes a l-loop. Where-eretimetibecomecomalooaloop. Where . . ." begins the UK-based Orbital's second album, a classic of early 90s experimental ambient techno. The first track, "Time Becomes", consists of the above Star Trek sample looping over and over against itself in a tempo-phasing experiment that borrows directly from Steve Reich. Though this kicks the album off with a fairly lofty and intellectual feel, the song is actually a joke - Orbital's debut, the Green Album, opens with the very same sample, the reappearance of which at the beginning of the Brown Album was meant to momentarily fool listeners into thinking they bought a bad pressing.

The hour of music that follows "Time Becomes" is one of the most consistently well reviewed in all of 90s electronica, or indeed any electronica. It's hypnotic, trippy, joyous, haunting, and deeply groovy. All of the tracks are lengthy and insistently rhythmic, making them fine for dancing or zoning out to, but they are also all dynamic enough to reward close attention. Two of them, "Lush" (please play this one loud and with as much bass as possible - the layers, the layers!) and "Halcyon + on + on", were big singles, and are probably a couple of the best tunes of their genre/decade. "Planet of the Shapes" is another quality head-bumper, with effective use of the sample "Even a stopped clocked gives the right time twice a day", taken from the film Withnail & I.

A second phasing experiment closes the album; this time the phrases "Input translation" and "Output rotation" loop against each other. Like "Time Becomes", this is the type of track that one either instantly hates, or grows to love for the delicate, ephemeral melodies and rhythms that can be discerned emerging from the chaos. (Guess which one it is in my case).

This album appears on a lot of Best 100 lists and for good reason. I slept on it for a long time, and would caution any fan of electronic music not to make the same mistake.



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