With one foot hopping on the dance floor and the other spiraling through the stratosphere, bedroom boffins Phil and Paul Hartnoll burst into the public consciousness during the heyday of the UK rave scene; amidst a stream of brilliant electronic singles from the duo, the shimmering polyrhythms of “Chime” hit the British Top 20 in April 1990. The first Orbital album (informally dubbed Green Album because of the cover) compiles ten of the best of those tracks, including “Belfast,” “Choice” and a Moby remix of “Speed Freak.”
The five-track Radiccio finds the brothers engaged in further experiments to construct epics out of recognizable samples, folded and layered to break down any sense of linear progression within the tracks. The eleven-minute “Halcyon” is built around a vocal snippet from Opus III’s popular cover of Jane and Barton’s “It’s a Fine Day”; “The Naked and the Dead” and “The Naked and the Dub” effortlessly spin unimaginable mileage from a bit of Scott Walker’s version of Jacques Brel’s “Next.” “Sunday” and a short radio edit of the eight-minute “Chime” round out the satisfying EP.
The second album (it’s known as Brown Album; the numerical designation appears only on the spine) stretches the duo’s aesthetic across an entire album conceived as such. From the Terry Riley-esque out-of-synch opening loops “Time Becomes,” the Orbitals twist beats and melodies into a musical moebius band; the expansive “Lush 3-1” and “Lush 3-2” are the best representation of this. “Impact (The Earth Is Burning)” brings things back to this planet by injecting an ecological theme, while “Halcyon + On + On” reinvents the title cut from the previous EP. As on previous releases, the individual tracks are blissful experiments in disorientation, but this album functions best listened to as a cohesive, transcendental whole.
Diversions is an apt title for an EP that includes three worthwhile interpretations of “Lush” (by C.J. Bolland, Psychick Warriors ov Gaia and Underworld) which had previously appeared on a UK single. Yet another version of “Lush” (from a John Peel session) segued into “Walk About,” the non-LP “Semi-Detached” and a longer version of “Impact” (“Impact USA”) complete the record.
Decidedly more earthbound than its predecessors, Snivilisation is a slower, eclectic affair. As titles like “Science Friction” and “I Wish I Had Duck Feet” (and the goofy illustrations) all suggest, the ten tracks capitalize on the band’s sense of humor via clever samples and juxtaposition of disparate musical elements in the playful arrangements. “Sad but True” and “Are We Here?” incorporate vocals by Alison Goldfrapp basically for their timbre, thereby sidestepping the trap of imposing a linear agenda on their swirling polyrhythms; the latter cut also shows that the duo has been paying attention to the emergence of jungle/drum and bass culture. A tricky album to digest, Snivilisation bears up well to the repeated listenings required to grab hold of it.