Orbital

Monsters Exist

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"Monsters Exist" was one of several phrases which momentarily flashed on-screen during the video for Orbital's iconic 1996 single "The Box." 22 years later, the brothers Hartnoll re-used the phrase as the title of their ninth studio album (and first since reuniting for the second time). The monsters in question range from world leaders to personal demons, but Orbital don't tackle these subjects head on. As with much of their work, however, there's still a political and philosophical underpinning to these tracks. "The Raid" is a slow, tense creeper punctuated by panting, a speech addressing "the moral question of the next 20 years," and megaphoned rallying cries. Like several other tracks on the album, it expresses fear and paranoia in a dramatic way, in addition to distilling the duo's cinematic inclinations (to date, they've released three soundtrack albums, and their music has appeared in countless additional films and television series). The profound and eerie "There Will Come a Time" features a guest lecture from Prof. Brian Cox, who provides a reality check that the world is eventually going to end, and that it's up to humanity to decide whether to destroy itself or embrace progress. "P.H.U.K." stands for "Please Help the United Kingdom," but instead of being a grim, desolate audio depiction of crime, poverty, and political corruption, it's a joyous celebration filled with cheery bleeps, a melody similar to Kraftwerk's "Tour de France," and some choppy breaks and contorted samples near the end. Ultimately, the duo spend more of Monsters Exist having a good time rather than dwelling on pressing issues. Tracks like "Hoo Hoo Ha Ha" or the chunky synthwave funk of "The End Is Nigh" are fun, jubilant, and more than a little bit goofy. If the duo didn't already title their previous album Wonky, it would've been apropos for this one as well. The way they twist bleating synth-horns and disembodied voices on this album almost seems like a parody of 2010s-era EDM -- which, of course, would never have existed without the '90s success of Orbital and peers like the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, and Leftfield. It's not all festival-baiting dance tunes or fake soundtracks, however. "Tiny Foldable Cities" highlights the duo's knack for advanced sound design, constructing complex beats and cerebral melodies while remaining approachable rather than alienating. Monsters Exist retains several hallmarks of the classic Orbital sound, but it isn't an album for '90s rave nostalgia purists pining for another "Belfast" or "Halcyon." Instead, it continues their tradition of making forward-thinking albums which reflect the present but glance excitedly, cautiously, and fearlessly into the future.

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