When sibling duo Orbital decided to quit three years ago there was barely a dry eye from �home clubber’ to the massed throngs of Glastonbury space cadets. They were after all the cheeky duo who came to epitomise the euphoric, emotional face of widescreen ambient techno.
What then of younger brother Paul’s debut album? Is it the outpouring of stifled creativity or perhaps the time when every artist ‘puts away his childhood things’ and takes that first step to being considered a �musical grown-up’. No more the sweaty arms-in-the-air glow-stick ambience of the past. The neo-classical electronica album is always a dangerous step to take for an artrists credibility. See William Orbit and his classical ‘reinterpretations’, also Mike Oldfield and if the lesson weren’t learned (gulp) Jean Michel-Jarre.
It’s thankfully not ‘Orbital go classical!’ Well not quite. There really was a classical element to a lot of the ravemeisters works that transformed two unassuming baldy blokes into true soundtrackers to a generation. Full of quirky humour, cascading otherworldy female warblings and a sweeping way with a tune that plucked at the emotions like no creaky synthesisers should.
On The Ideal Condition it’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, try doing it a different way’. Out go thumping beats and ecstasy-soaked crescendos, in come pastoral string quartets organic instrumentation, choirs, orchestras and a lightness of touch. And it works in a beautiful, tingling, natural way as things take on a distinctly more chilled-out feel to proceedings on the majority of The Ideal Condition.
Like Orbital there are glimpses of the spacious, ambient techno full of rising and falling arpeggiated scales they were known for most notably on the choir-laced and Nature Boy sounding opener Haven’t We Met Before. But there is something else. The unsettling arrangements of folk instrumentation and widescreen sweeps nestle next to each other as vocal track follows instrumental in a complimentary style.
Lianne Hall takes the place usually taken by Alison Goldfrapp to provide vocals shimmering somewhere between Imogen Heap and the ethereal cooings of Liz Frazer (Cocteau Twins) on the gonging glitch and strings swoop of For Silence . Likewise the elegiac and simply heartfelt mantra of Nothing Else Matters (but us) cut through any pomposity with a sleazy crawl that is part-Kylie part-Goldfrapp but ends up being fully Hartnoll’s.
The ruptured bass sweeps and tweaks of Patchwork Guilt and Please are more obviously electronic in their treatment. The latter featuring that saucer-faced Uncle Goth Robert Smith from The Cure rejuvenated in dance-grandad mode are the only obvious link to Hartnoll’s dance past. Whereas Aggro is like a slap from a punky fist with its Bowie-esque saxophone parping amidst a dense wall of noise which sits uncomfortably with the rest of The Ideal Condition. But perhaps this best sums up the album in its ability to shake your expectations.
He may have hung up his novelty ‘torch-specs’ but there is still much fun to be had if it’s punky, chilled or classical Paul Hartnoll has a tune that could soundtrack any movie where the horizons are big, the emotions are bigger, the characters are complex and Robert Smith appears in cameo. And you don’t get that from any old synth-prodder.