If it looks like Orbital and sounds like Orbital, is it actually Orbital?
It strikes me that making music isn’t so much a choice as a pre-shaped blueprint that’s as unique as your handwriting. If you didn’t know that 8:58 was Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll, one listen and you’ll be in little doubt.
Paul Hartnoll has often talked about techno’s hidden pagan undertow and recently he’s been using the word “witchy” a lot. Unchecked by his brother Phil, it seems 8:58 is an esoteric version of the Orbital master plan.
The twist is a raft of guest vocalists. As a result, the record feels much more earthy than anything Orbital ever produced. Lisa Knapp’s contribution to the haunting ‘The Past Now’, Ed Harcourt’s bellowingly good turn on ‘Villain’, and newcomer Fable (an Electronic Sound tip for 2015) on ‘Cemetery’ do take a little adjusting to, but Hartnoll skillfully handles proceedings, ramping things up until the tracks teeter on the brink of bursting before, well, bursting.
At times, it’s more about the silence than the sound. Those little pauses, the moments where you catch yourself holding your breath as the quietness sucks the air out of the room, then a switch flicks and the track explodes. So in Hartnoll’s take on The Cure’s ‘A Forest’, which features The Unthanks, when they get to the line, “Suddenly I stop…”, guess what? They stop, pause, crikey. You can take the man off the dancefloor…
The Cure crop up again later on, with Robert Smith offering a second tilt at ‘Please’, a track that first appeared on Hartnoll’s 2007 solo album, ‘The Ideal Condition’. With the addition of Brighton belle Lianne Hall, it’s a thumpingly enjoyable romp. Other tracks, including the title cut, ‘The Clock’, ‘Broken Up’ and ‘Nearly There’, the first two of these featuring actor Cillian Murphy’s monologue, are Orbital in all but name. ‘Nearly There’ is trademark stuff. There’s a passage, about a minute in, that comes on a bit Euro, like ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ meets Yello, which only serves to remind us why we love Orbital so much.
It’s the ghosts in the machine, the cheeky references, the nods (a personal favourite being the John Baker/‘John Craven’s Newsround’ lift on 1999’s ‘Spare Parts Express’), and there are a few here that would have us asking loudly for fish if we were seals. The OMD ‘Telegraph’-isms in ‘The Past Now’, in particular.
When the Hartnoll brothers stood side by side, headlights flickering, something special happened. That trick, whatever twisted wizard shizz was at work, rarely let you down. So if it’s just one of them, does the magic diminish? Nope, but it is a different kind of magic.