Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Hartnoll Brothers

Popular music is full of siblings who have made music together, and a lot of them have had rather tempestuous relationships. The fightin' Gallaghers from Oasis spring to mind, as do the Davies brothers from The Kinks. And, going even further back, I believe the Everly Brothers didn't speak to each other for the odd decade or two.

An exception to this rule are Paul and Phil Hartnoll from the seminal electronic act, Orbital. Hmmm... Must have been all the E they took. It's hard to stay angry at someone when you're pilling your tits off.

Despite the lack of any high-profile familial bust-ups, it's a truism of life that all good things must come to an end. And so, after four memorable appearances at Glastonbury, seven great studio albums, and a stonkingly good valedictory tour in 2004, Orbital broke up. Along with the likes of Leftfield, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers, they will be remembered as one of the most vital and innovative electronic bands of the 90s.

(If you're unfamiliar with their work, check out these videos for a taster - The Box and Halcyon).

But what are the Hartnoll boys doing nowadays? This year has provided us with the answer, so it's time to don my metaphorical music reviewer's hat and give the following pair of CDs a listen:

Long Range - Madness and Me

I saw Phil Hartnoll's Long Range at The Big Chill back in summer 2006, so I was expecting a CD of their new material pretty soon afterwards. I didn't think I'd have to wait over a year anyway!
Not to worry - it's here now. And it's got all the ingredients for a great dance album. Filthy basslines? Check. Insistent beats? Check. Heart-fluttering melodies? Check. The title track is a particularly beautiful piece of music.

The only exception to this tale of excellence is the song 'Your Face', in which Long Range 'succeeds' in sounding like some godawful German heavy metal band from the 80s. I don't know what Phil was thinking of there, but the result is complete shit.

Nevermind, things get back on track with the excellent Just One More and it doesn't detract from what's a very promising debut from this band.

8 out of 10.

Paul Hartnoll - The Ideal Condition

Wow, this is an entirely different kettle of fish. It's been said that Paul wants to get into making soundtracks for movies, and it certainly sounds like it. Much of the material comes across like the soundtrack for a movie - a bloody good one.

A lot of The Ideal Condition couldn't be described as house music - or, indeed, dance music of any kind - so a lot of Orbital fans probably won't like it. But personally I love the airy, orchestral, almost pastoral sound of tracks like 'For Silence' and 'The Unsteady Waltz'.

There are still harder, clubbier tracks (and the poppier 'Please' featuring the distinctive vocals of The Cure's Robert Smith) but the overall feel is sweeping and grandiose. For example, 'Nothing Else Matters' is one of the most beautiful electronic tracks I've heard in ages, and the final track 'Dust Notes' reminds me of the sort of grand, overblown orchestral piece that wouldn't sound out of place on the Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother'.

In other words, it's fookin' brilliant.

9 out of 10.

So there we have it. A narrow points victory to Paul.

The feeling back "in the day" was that Paul was probably the real brains behind Orbital. I think this was mainly due to the fact that Phil, during the live shows, used to cavort around and wave his arms around and generally look like he was having just as good a time as the audience - while Paul generally kept his head down and seemed to be doing most of the 'knob twiddling'.

Despite this public impression, I reckon these albums show that the talent in the Hartnoll family was shared around fairly evenly.


Joe the Troll said...

I'm not familiar with them, but I know how rare it is to have a band you like break up and then do good stuff individually. There might be one good one out of the batch, but even that isn't the usual case.

Cheezy said...

Very true. George Michael fans will probably tell us that he started improving after he left Andrew Ridgeley, but the rest of us will doubtless conclude that, after Wham!, the only possible way was up.

Natsthename said...

LOL on the Ridgeley comment, cheezy!

MOPowell said...

Orbital is one of my favorite groups of all time. What they did wasn't just raver music or something to put in a car commercial, it was brilliant music that I will be listening to for years to come.

BTW do you know where I can find MP3s of their newer work? I'd like to listen before I buy.

Fat Roland said...

This is a slightly delayed comment, but...

I guess One Perfect Sunrise in session with John Peel was their last broadcasted performance. I cried like a bastard listening to that show.

Like a bastard.