Crate Digging is a recurring feature in which we take a deep dive into a genre and turn up several albums all music fans should know about. In this edition, electronic legends Orbital share their picks.
Phil and Paul Hartnoll feel that their new album as Orbital, Optical Delusion, is “all killer, no filler.”
“There’s normally a track on an album where we go ‘Oh, not sure about that one,'” Phil Hartnoll tells Consequence, “… But on this one, everyone’s a winner.”
The two brothers, who have been producing and releasing music now across four decades, are excited to be back in the mix once again. Throughout the years, their Orbital project has withstood some significant eras of electronic music, from the breakbeat romps of England’s bustling house scene in the ’90s and 2000s, to the widescreen fantasia of EDM in the 2010s. Now, Orbital’s Optical Delusion (out now) finds them taking cues from both old and new as they formulate an expansive and freeing dance concoction.
For Optical Delusion, they’ve collaborated with some artists that stray far from Orbital’s lane — “Dirty Rat” features UK punks Sleaford Mods for a frenetic and downright silly electro explosion, and opener “Ringa Ringa (The Old Pandemic Folk Song)” includes contributions from British ensemble Mediæval Bæbes as they reimagine the children’s rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie” for a new, post-COVID world.
But the Hartnoll brothers aren’t just outstanding producers and songwriters — they’re true connoisseurs of the electronic genre, and have been actively inspired by the genre’s pioneers and forerunners for the last 40 years. In addition to older, influential dance records like Jean-Michel Jarre’s Zoolook and Kraftwerk’s Computer World, they’ve also selected essential records from a newer era, like Jon Hopkins’ stunning 2018 LP, Singularity.
Read on for Orbital’s list of the 10 electronic albums that everyone should own, and stream the duo’s new album Optical Delusion below.
Kraftwerk – Computer World
Phil Hartnoll: During lockdown, I couldn’t really listen to music. I was in really bad shape. But Computer World was kind of the only one I could listen to, the only album. And I think it’s because it’s so competent. It was so non-challenging because I know it so well. It was just like an old friend. I played it all the time. I’d like to see how many times I’ve played it. I think we can do that with Spotify. But that’d be quite a good thing. It’s a pinnacle point in my and Paul’s joint.
Paul Hartnoll: This was the first Kraftwerk album that I bought. Phil had gotten a record player for Christmas one year and he got an album with it, which was Trans-Europe Express. It’s a soundtrack of a motorway, and it’s all one track. It’s brilliant. So I grew up with Kraftwerk. And Phil bought The Man-Machine as well, which is a great album. We could have had five Kraftwerk albums in this list, but you can’t do that.
Computer World was the first one I bought, I was about 12. At first play, I thought it was really strange because it didn’t sound quite like Man-Machine. It sounded colder and more stark and spikey. And then I got to the end of side one, and “Numbers” came on, and it was so icy and chilling, but it made me want to move. I felt like I was at the birth of something. And I didn’t know what it was actually, it was electro, but who knew at the time? I just thought, “Oh, yeah, yeah, okay.” And I hammered that album and grew to love every moment and every beat and note and meaning on it. They were heralding the future still. I think for me, it was the last time Kraftwerk did that, because the rest of the world caught up with them. It’s not to say they slowed down or they fucked it up or got it wrong, but exponential growth meant that the rest of the world caught up with Kraftwerk. And their job was done in so many ways. They still went on to do Electric Cafe or “techno pop” as they call it now, which is also a great album, but Computer World was the pinnacle of everything they built up to. It’s the top of their mountain, starting from Autobahn. It was just like an ascent right up to Computer World for me.
Essential Track: “Computer World” itself, the opening track. “Numbers” is brilliant, but “Computer World” itself, it’s the opening promise of utopia.
Tangerine Dream – Force Majuere
Phil: The pain I went through and the amount of Tangerine Dream albums I went back and listened to again, just to come to the conclusion of Force Majeure. Because Tangerine Dream, they’re another band where every album just bleeds into the next and it’s like this one long ocean of fabulousness. The album that I bought when I was young was Exit, which I absolutely love. Having got most of them now, I think I keep coming back to Force Majeure, which is interesting because it’s actually a bit more prog rock than they usually are. It’s got drums and I think that kind of pleases me — it’s like “Wow, what’s this? This thing? There’s this drumkit going on.” There’s also more electric guitar going on, but it’s still a quintessentially electronic album. I just love it.
I suppose what I’m saying to anyone reading this is it’s an interesting starting point and then spiral out in either direction from there. You can move forwards to Exit or backwards to the oldest stuff, but it’s all good, even their live albums. For me, it’s one that I would definitely on a Sunday afternoon, go “Oh come on, Force Majeure. Let’s do it.” I just love their style and their sound and their kind of jam-y sounding quality that’s also carefully considered. It’s got some kind of planning and mission in mind, and it really kind of takes you on a journey that some of the earlier ones also do, but they’re a lot slower. It’s a slower burn, whereas Force Majeure drags you through a journey. But what I’m saying to people is: This is a window, open it, go in there, and then see where you go beyond that.
Essential Track: “Cloudburst Flight” kills me every time.