Review: Orbital, Orbital 2 (Brown Album)

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IMAGE: Cover to Orbital’s
Brown Album
 (1993)
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Orbital 2 is a sophomore release for the ages. With expectations riding high off of their already revolutionary self-titled LP, Orbital set to work on a sequel in the winter of 1993. The fruit of their labors during these months, Orbital 2 (also known as the Brown Album), constitutes an astounding accomplishment — a timeless masterpiece still virtually unmatched within the genre. On this album, the brothers Hartnoll achieved an almost perfect balance between the ambient sound they had developed on the previous record and a new strain of hyper-futuristic trance. It cemented Orbital’s place as pioneers within trance and ambient techno and prepared the way for artists like Aphex Twin, who toured with them following the album’s release.

The songs on Orbital 2 are constructed methodically, according to a set pattern of mutation that persists more or less throughout the album. This grants the album its uncanny integrity. Each track typically proceeds in a cumulative fashion, establishing a central motif around which successive layers are then added. As new elements enter in, others recede into the background or fade entirely, only to reappear in fresh combinations later in the song. Every part simulates the whole to which it belongs, similar in this way to a fractal. Orbital weave together these constituent parts in a manner that almost approximates a lemniscate infinity — an arching ebb and flow along a laser grid whose contours have been swollen by constant digital effluxion.
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A music review of Converge’s 2001 album Jane Doe

Converge’s 2001 record Jane Doe is, more than anything else, a symptom. A symptom, of course, is a surface phenomenon that points to its derivation out of something deeper — something that lies at its root, concealed from view. It is the manifestation of that which remains latent. As such, it is the expression of another thing, distinct from itself, of which it is an unwitting reflex, purely epiphenomenal.

But in its very superficiality, Jane Doe simulates profundity. The illusion that results is, in fact, so perfect as to disguise its origin even from itself, lost in the night of its own paramnesia. Jacob Bannon might be the one singing on the record, but make no mistake: the words are not his own. In truth, they are words written by no one. Words that are the product of a thoroughly impersonal dynamic, generated by a mindless web of relations that inscribes itself into the consciousness of a human vessel — a human vessel which for it is nothing more than a mouthpiece, a means for expression.

In other words, Bannon is the puppet of forces beyond his comprehension. He dances to a tune that was not of his own making. Nor was this tune the making of any other member of Converge. His frenetic flailing during their songs is the enactment of a total powerlessness, the involuntary spasm of a marionette.

Very well, a symptom — but if so, a symptom of what?

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