Orbital - Monsters Exist

by Joseph Majsterski Rating:9 Release Date:2018-09-14
Orbital - Monsters Exist
Orbital - Monsters Exist

After a five-year break since their last album, which came after a massive eight-year break from the album before it, electronic masters Paul and Phil Hartnoll, the twin brothers known as Orbital, are finally back again with a new album called Monsters Exist. Some personal issues caused a rift that separated the pair, but perhaps that time apart was for the best, at least in creative terms, because Monsters Exist is one of their best albums to date.

The album opens dramatically with the title track, a big, bombastic tune that immediately gets going with high energy. Huge synths and beats pound along as varied layers of melodies burble beneath, in fact sounding a lot like Daft Punk's Tron Legacy soundtrack. It's an exciting beginning and sets the tone well. But second track 'Hoo Hoo Ha Ha' is where things really get rolling. It's here the pair really start showing off their style, which does harken back to the older, classic sound, but also adds new flourishes in a lot of ways. It's the best version of when a band expands their musical palette while staying true to themselves. And so 'Hoo Hoo Ha Ha' has a lot of familiar beat structures and melodic components but adds in a goofy horn lead and something of a drunken stagger to the proceedings, making the song extremely quirky yet still danceable.

There's a slight misstep with 'The Raid', as it's a bit too harsh and impenetrable compared to the bouncy fun that came prior. 'P.H.U.K.' gets right back on track though by being an absolutely brilliant track, alternating between high-intensity joy and majestic retrospection, this song has it all. As a fan of most varieties of electronic music, I find this song satisfying in many different ways. It's rare that a band have the chops to pull off a stylistic mashup like this, but Orbital definitely rank up there as a group that can. The next track, 'Tiny Foldable Cities', is the other single, and it's nearly as good, but there's a flaw that prevents it from being perfect. It opens with a wonderfully intricate synth line that seems to twist and fold in on itself, and builds in the rest of the instrumentation in carefully crafted steps, adding bass and beats, but a strange series of ascending staircase key stabs sends the song off course briefly before it rights itself and adds a new, sweetly dribbling melody to the mix. Another grating pad disrupts the tune in a different way, and the stabs come back a few times later on, marring an otherwise amazing piece of musicianship.

'Buried Deep Within' takes a while to get going, more like an ambient track than anything, but beats and synths give some life eventually, although it has less personality than many of the other tracks. 'Vision One' is similar, but a good bit funkier and possessing an ineffable quality of fun that makes it worth a lot more repeat listens. The most "modern"-sounding track on the album has to be 'The End is Nigh'. It starts out sounding like swamp techno, all muddy and sloppy but eventually brings in a dense, ultra-trendy synth burst to freshen up the sound, making this sound pretty unlike anything I've ever heard from the band before. It's just very of the moment. 'There Will Come a Time', featuring a spoken word performance by physics professor Brian Cox, is an epic finish to the set. I never expected to hear a discourse on the heat death of the universe in the middle of a song, but here it is, and it's fantastic.

And that's it. But wait! There's a deluxe edition of the album that comes with a second disc with more original songs and a couple remixes. A pretty straightforward club-friendly track called 'Kaiju' leads the second disc, spiraling wildly into some fun, vintage Orbital danciness. The second track is a complete tone change, so different that I had to make sure I hadn't accidentally gotten another album mixed into my playlist. 'A Long Way From Home' is a very short track fronted by a delicate acoustic guitar and full of all kinds of other unplugged instruments. It's quite lovely and an interesting change-up for the band.

It's honestly shocking how much extra goodness is packed into the second disc. 'Analogue Test Oct 16' and 'To Dream Again' both work the band's primary strengths, with layered synths creating throwback techno and a popping beats giving the songs some muscle. The fun keeps piling on with the aptly named 'Fun with the System', which is heavily larded with even more charming synth melodies and some off-kilter pads. 'Dressing Up in Other People's Clothes' head fakes like it's going to be an ambient track, but completely shifts gears after about a minute and turns into a great piece of exploratory electronica, sounding like a Martian safari. Most appreciated is the instrumental version of 'There Will Come a Time'. The original version of the song has that mindblowing, wish-I-was-on-something feeling the first time, but that effect wears off after a few more listens, and like many spoken word monologues added to songs, it starts to fall flat eventually. But more than that, the particulars of the content are emotionally draining. The wordless version revives the enjoyment of the song by letting it stand on its own merits.

The set ends with London producer Kareful's remix of 'Tiny Foldable Cities', which initially sounds like you're listening to the original track on a crappy little radio in another room, but bursts into a sexily slowed down rendition that reminds me of Glitch Mob. It's utterly distinct from the original and benefits from dropping the weaker elements mentioned earlier.

So yeah, the deluxe version is pretty much the one to get. The first disc is great, but the second contains so many more fantastic tracks, you'd really be missing out if you skipped it. As a pretty devoted Anglophile when it comes to electronic music, I've been rather fond of Orbital for decades. I'm tempted to call this epic work their crowning achievement, which is pretty shocking to consider for an album so late in a band's career. But there it is. Don't hesitate to buy this masterwork as soon as you can.

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