Monster Slayers 909 in the Age of Incompetence
‘Where Is It Going?’ was the closing track on Orbital’s last full album ‘Wonky’ (2012). Exploding with a digital euphoric firework burst of beautiful optimistic sounds and colours, soaring higher and higher, taking you to places of etherial hope, joy and possibility. That was certainly the case for the listener, or audience members at their hugely inspiring and spectacular live shows (which the track often closed), but given the title of the album was ‘Wonky’, something certainly was, and the two siblings parted professional ways soon after.
Thankfully for all of humanity (well me), the Hartnoll brothers managed to sort out their differences, maybe did a wee bit of soul searching and growing up, recognising their love and bond that would always invariably come back round like the M25 (where their name came from) or one of their spine tingling loops in their tracks.
They returned to their spiritual home doing live sets in 2017 having lost nothing of their ability, and if anything they were clearly more up for it than ever.
The world had somewhat changed since that split, and not for the better. After decades of dreadful and incompetent governance by all political parties, the Tory government (aided by Labour) deliberately brought in vicious ‘austerity’ cutbacks aimed at the weakest in the country. It became an era of destruction that the UK had not seen since World War II, and it was self inflicted. The buildings may be still standing, instead of piles of rubble, but they are generally owned by extremely rich foreign individuals, while the Tories do their damnedest to sell off anything and everything that was owned by the state to private companies who don’t pay tax in this country. The NHS being the number one target for their greed given it’s billions deep revenue stream that can be siphoned off to feather their mansioned sized nests.
The only thing the Tory party was competent at was incompetence and that manifested in an ill judged referendum, which resulted in a decision to leave the European Union, despite profound amounts of illegal actions involved, and the vote being only a consultation, it’s orchestrated disater captialism at it’s purest.
All these tales and more (Trump, fascism etc) directly lead to their latest release ‘Monsters Exist’ (2018), which given these previous points make for potentially heady subject matters for exploration on an album by one of the greatest rave acts ever. Any fans of the group won’t have any issues with this of course given the brother’s have always had songs inspired by politics, humanitarian or just average human experiences, good and bad. Light and darkness coexists at the same time, with the world being neither good nor bad, but brief moments of both, it’s just at the moment there seems to be more darkness, well there’s certainly more stupidity.
This light and darkness is the back bone to ‘Monsters Exist’, where much like the concept of time in the movie ‘Arrival’ (2016), it wasn’t linear, (past, present, future), but circular, all existing in one moment. And from the first opening notes of the first title track ‘Monsters Exist’ it transports you back to the distilled brooding moments of their first albums in the early 90s, only to catapult you through the following decades and evolution to the present.
There certainly is a poignant reflectiveness, but this album isn’t the dark side to ‘In Sides’ (1996) even though the same artist (John Greenwood) created both covers, nor the winter side of the summer festival vibe of ‘Wonky’. Here everything is one, maybe in the context of how everything is connected, as it is in real life, and the people causing the destruction and turmoil around us don’t seem to be aware that it will ultimately bring the same harm about them.
There’s always a sense of play about Orbital works, even in darkness, and cinematic opener changes lanes into the following giddy carnivalesque clowns on parade (running the White House?) ‘Hoo Hoo Ha Ha’.
‘The Raid’ has a purity of intent that it could be a worm hole straight into 91’s ‘Orbital’ (Green album), the only thing that possibly differentiates it is the ever expanding spectrum of sound that they seem to create, as if they’ve invented ultraviolet sound.
All the tracks hold their own, though as a collective (if you are listening in sequence) some become the foundation to souring euphoria such as ‘P.H.U.K.’ which is a proper hands in the air, live like there’s no tomorrow jubilation of all that is great. Of course with Orbital steering it, the title means Please Help U.K. and together with it’s fantastic and brutally honest accompanying video, it is a direct attack on the sinister role of media in the U.K. that continually focuses on and fuels Royal distraction while thousands literally die on the streets from poverty.
‘Tiny Foldable Cities’ is a 2001 gateway sequence of beautiful distorted sounds, that like the movie sequence pause you in reverence, a moment of glitchy reflection.
Slowing rising ‘Buried Deep Within’ brings the classic Orbital sway and groove that has had entire stadiums and fields moving as one for over 30 years, full of the notes and moments, highs and bass, all working in perfect symbiosis, neither would shine without the other.
That craftsmanship and heritage of sonically manipulating valleys of emotions continues onto the soaring beauty that is ‘Vision OnE’, transporting you to a place where the concept of harm doesn’t exist, it is a clarion call for aspiration.
‘Wonky’ ended in euphoria, but as mentioned, times are different now, and the final too tracks accordingly take it down a notch to a more reflective pace, firstly with the somewhat dour sounding title ‘The End Is Nigh’, which isn’t dour at all. But then it’s followed up with Professor Brian Cox telling us in the first line of ‘There Will Come A Time’ that we’re all going to die.
The first time I heard this track I wasn’t sure about it all. There’s a distinct palpable vulnerability, almost too vulnerable, honest, delicate, gentle, embracing, fragile wavering notes and sounds that are effectively as transient as our very own lives. To have one of the most soothing voices of pure reason that exists in our world today, calmly and effectively give us a science lecture on the realities that we as a society and species, is both incredibly potent, and potentially overwhelming, as it should be. It perfectly sums up Monsters Exist, darkness, light coexisting as one, and it is exquisitely beautiful in it’s sincerity, and is for me one of the greatest songs they have ever created.
It’s as it closes that I realised the album as a whole sounds and works like a soundtrack to a movie, with different sequences, settings of drama, fun, peril, play, reflection, realisation and hopefully enlightenment. Then you realise that movie is your own life, all the images and memories that flash before you as you drift down into these tracks.
Monsters Exist, but so do Monster Slayers, and the Hartnoll brothers definitely have their membership dues paid up full, they will be our clarion call. And if for some reason they can’t they can’t find the trumpets (banned by Brexit?), their trusty 909 sequencer and ultraviolet sound will do just fine.
10/10 ‘Monsters Exist’ by Orbital is out now.