Orbital

Work 1989-2002 (ffrr/WSM)

Dance music owes a huge debt to British brothers Paul and Phil Hartnoll, who in their Orbital guise helped legitimize electronica as both a live performance art on par with geetar-wielding rock and as a style sustainable in an album format, not just as dance-floor fodder. One of the first techno acts to appear on British TV's Top of the Pops, the brothers always improvised during live performances, proving that a human heartbeat indeed lurked within this mechanical music. And following the release of a few early singles, beginning with 1989's pulsating, shimmering benchmark "Chime," the pair -- always among techno's most prolific and intelligent innovators -- went on to release a series of finely crafted albums.

As a result of this effort, we get Work 1989-2002, a best-of comp featuring 13 Orbital gems and one new track, opening with the glorious minimalism of "Chime" and closing with the operatic female vocals and layers of subdued, swirling synths of "Belfast." In between, we get the best of the rest, although many of the tracks are shortened versions of the originals. "Satan" (roiling, techno-rawk bombast at its best), "Belfast," and "Choice" (an antiwar rant set to hardcore techno beats and bleepy synths) are all from the first full-length Orbital platter, 1991's Orbital.

Haunting female vocals, crisp handclaps, bright guitar picking, and a Yes vocal sample inform "Halcyon and On and On," which, along with "Lush" and "Impact," hail from 1992's seminal Orbital 2. The pretty and sparkling "Nothing Left" and "Style" represent the stellar The Middle of Nowhere (1999), while "Illuminate" and "Funny Break" account for the best two tracks from 2001's The Altogether.

The dulcet "Are We Here?" is the lone entry from 1994's Snivilisation, the Hartnoll brothers' foray into techno saddled with weighty sociopolitical statements. The ominous opus "The Box," complete with faux harpsichord, was originally released as a 28-minute single; here, it's trimmed down to a four-minute snippet. "The Box" leads into the album's sole new track, "Frenetic," a slice of solid Orbital orchestration blending trance with exquisite vocals by Lisa Billson. Orbital's greatest hits, as it were, is nearly useless to fans who've tracked the brothers through the years but indispensable for those just boarding their sleek, streamlined monorail.

 
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