Label: London Records
Format: 2 x 12″, White
A1: Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song) (Feat. The Mediaeval Baebes)
A2: Day One (Feat. Dina Ipavic)
A3: Are You Alive? (Feat. Penelope Isles)
B1: You Are The Frequency (Feat. The Little Pest)
B2: The New Abnormal
C1: Home (Feat. Anna B Savage)
C2: Dirty Rat
C3: Requiem For The Pre-Apocalypse
D1: What A Surprise (Feat. The Little Pest)
D2: Moon Princess (Feat. Coppe)
2 x Solid White LP, 5mm spine Sleeve UV Gloss Finish, 2x Heavy Weight Printed Inner Sleeve UV Gloss finish, marketing sticker.
Legendary electronic music duo Orbital return Early 2023 with new album “Optical Delusion”, the Hartnoll brothers first studio album since 2018’s Monster’s Exist. Recorded in Orbital’s Brighton studio, “Optical Delusion” includes contributions from Sleaford Mods, Penelope Isles, Anna B Savage, The Little Pest, Dina Ipavic, Coppe, and perhaps most surprisingly, The Medieval Baebes.
Earlier this year, Orbital celebrated their storied history with “30 Something” which, unlike other Best Of’s, contains reworks, remakes, remixes and re-imaginings of landmark Orbital tracks including “Chime”, “Belfast”, “Halcyon”, “Satan”, and “The Box”
“A human being experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest of humanity – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison…”
You many have seen this quote attributed to Albert Einstein on social media, the archetypal Smartest Guy Ever apparently having an out-of-character religious epiphany. It certainly leapt out at Paul Hartnoll of Orbital who spotted it in Michael Pollan’s 2018 book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence.
“As soon as I saw ‘optical delusion’ I thought Oh hey, that’s the album title,” says Paul. “It just seemed to say so much about how people construct their own realities, how we see patterns that aren’t there, how we see what we want to see.
“But it’s actually a misquote. He never quite said that. In the German original what he’s really saying is that human experience is as relative as physics. Wouldn’t it be good if we could accept that, and find a kind of universal theory of everything for the human race? Then you look at everything from history to art to your Twitter feed and you think yeah, that’s what we’re all trying to do all of the time…”
Hence ‘Optical Delusion’, the tenth original Orbital album and the latest in a burst of renewed post-pandemic creativity for two brothers who’ve stayed at the top of their game longer than anyone from the post-1988 Class of Acid House.
Now with ‘Optical Delusion’ the Hartnolls dig deeper into the unquiet psyche of our increasingly surreal and disordered world. Sketched out partly during lockdown but fully recorded in the uncertain After Times, the album summons up conflicting emotions and sometimes beguiling images from years when the science fiction doomsdays that the Hartnolls watched on TV as kids finally came true. There are mesmeric tracks with names like ‘The New Abnormal’ and ‘Requiem For The Pre-Apocalypse’ and ‘Day One’. But there are also straight-up bangers and ethereal cosmic dreams, abstract sound wars and deeply human songs of separation and loss.
And it all starts with a bang. Lead single ‘Dirty Rat’, an outright Fall-meets-Front-242 class rant with vocals by Sleaford Mods mob orator Jason Williamson, harks right back to the Hartnolls’ days of politicised anarcho-squatpunk. It began as a remix swap (Orbital did the Sleafords’ ‘I Don’t Rate You’) and morphed into a comic, brutal, bass-driven harangue not so much against our rulers but at the petty, mean-spirited, frightened, Mail-reading voters who put them there: the people who are “blaming everyone in hospital/blaming everyone at the bottom of the English Channel/blaming everyone who doesn’t look like a fried animal.”
Also key to the album is opening track ‘Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song)’ which returns to an Orbital truism, that time always becomes a loop. This chugging, cyclical Orbital groove gives way to an unnerving past-meets-present timeslip fit for ‘Sapphire And Steel’ as goth maenads The Mediaeval Baebes materialise to sing ‘Ring O’Roses’ – the innocent nursery rhyme whose roots are in the Black Death.
“I’ve always liked folk music and mediaeval sounds,” says Paul, himself an occasional Morris dancer. “I had the basis of that track and I wanted to spin it off somehow.” Trawling his archives he stumbled on The Mediaeval Baebes’ version of ‘Ring O’Roses’ “and my hackles just went up. I was like, my God, this is the original pandemic folk song.”
?his being Orbital, there are collaborations galore on the album, the roles once played by Alison Goldfrapp, Lady Leshurr or David Gray now filled by new talents. London singer-songwriter Anna B Savage contributes a compellingly fragile, Anohni-like vocal to ‘Home’, in which nature reclaims the scorched and vacant mega-cities. ‘Day One’ is a pulsing techno track featuring the singer Dina Ipavic. Paul got in touch with her after working on a score for a sculpture show of giant robotic installations by his friend Giles Walker during the pandemic. First Paul cut up his own score and Ipavic’s vocals on the track The Crane, which appears on the deluxe version of the album. Then he thought, Why not work with her for real? The result is school of ‘Belfast’, a bassy dreamscape with vocalised clouds billowing above.
The pensive ‘Are You ?live?’ adds to the Orbital product range of existential questions (‘Are We Here?’, ‘Where Is It Going?’) in collaboration Bella Union signings Penelope Isles, AKA brother and sister act Lily and Jack Wolter. “They’re our studio mates, they work upstairs!” says Paul happily. “And they’ve both got amazing voices.”
But Orbital are Orbital and never far from the dancefloor. “Eventually the more abrasive bits came back into the fold…” ‘You Are The Frequency’, first of two tracks to feature mysterious vocalist The Little Pest, surrounds the listener with warped voices ordering you to the dancefloor (Phil: “we wanted the idea that the music is kind of absorbing you”). And the second, the sinister ‘What A Surprise’, traps you in a paranoid electronic hall of mirrors.
In another nod to Orbital’s resurgent past the cover artwork once again comes from fine art painter John Greenwood, creator of fantastical grotesques for the covers of ‘Snivilisation’, ‘In Sides’ and Orbital’s most recent album, 2018’s ‘Monsters Exist’. Orbital had just had a slick Mark Farrow cover for ‘30 Something’ – this is a return to the overripe and bulbous techno-organic constructions that somehow express Orbital’s own uncontrollably fertile sound.
There are gaps in the future that Orbital are desperate to fill too; there will be tours and festivals and rooms and fields full of people. Those long paralysed months when we had little to look forward to but a Zoom DJ set made Paul and Phil appreciate the things that make life worth living.