Orbital: Optical Delusion review – plague songs and hyper-pop

A flurry of guest vocalists all have things to say on the duo’s potent 10th album, and yet the real magic happens when they’re left to their own devices

Purism has many drawbacks, but electronic music can sometimes seem diminished by vocalists cooing up top, as though some core fealty to the radical possibilities of electronics has been diluted. Not even Orbital – titans of the genre – are immune to the human-angle siren song. Optical Delusion, their 10th, is a powerful record, another sterling comeback on which brothers Phil and Paul Hartnoll provide sylph-like forward momentum, creepy noises, old-school drum’n’bass and cathedral-like synth sounds.

The human guests all serve some purpose: the normally excellent Sleaford Mods to rant, unsubtly, about how turkeys vote for Christmas (Dirty Rat); the Mediaeval Baebes to floatily join the dots between the plague nursery rhyme Ringa Ringa and how many of our loved ones “fell down” in 2020-21. On Home, Anna B Savage trenchantly details how we could “tear it all down, brick by brick, town by town”, and on the intriguingly gnarly Moon Princess, Orbital enlist veteran Japanese electronicist Coppé. They both earn their place.

But the instrumental tracks that don’t bother with female vocals, or opera, are just better. You Are the Frequency – all distorted vocal samples and arpeggiations – verges on hyper-pop; Requiem for the Pre-Apocalypse and The New Abnormal, meanwhile, are classic Orbital.

Watch the video for Ringa Ringa, ft. Mediaeval Babes, by Orbital.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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