nnord – Orbital (Winter Alternative, 2014)

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First appearances can often be deceiving in music; one of the things I try to do to smooth things out is try to listen to an album as many times as I can before reviewing it so that I have a slightly more educated position on it, and sometimes in the process things that I liked the first time around slowly become less and less appealing with each spin. Sadly, after 9 full listens, this appears to be the case with nnord’s debut LP Orbital, invoking the same banality of the phenomena of its namesake in its Ambient Techno constructions.

That’s not to say that the music is necessarily bad, however, simply that it’s really rather boring. Comprised of 5 tracks, of which only one falls below the 7 minute mark, nnord attempt to recreate the journey that a body makes through space, its starlit mass spinning endlessly and repetitively through the black void of the cold, unforgiving vacuum. It’s a nice idea; not wholly original but it can be fantastic if well done. Opener “Arrival On The Great Plains” introduces us well to the sound we must become intimately familiar with over the album’s course; luminous synth drones arrive in heady pulses, suspended on motes of more delicate and minimal backing drones before exploding to Vangelis inspired synth blats and triumphant elongate thrums, chased away by at the end by soft and creepy wind. It’s a strong opener to be sure, but we’re forced to strap into another 30 minutes of painfully similar and repetitious melodies.

The opener pairs strongly with the last few tracks of the record, “Asteroid Tomb” and closer “The Last Bison”, both of which strike up brooding and minimalistic atmospheres through the use, or overuse, of thin drone currents and bleak electronic processings. “Asteroid Tomb” engages some oscillatory drone surges alongside some pretty cathartic currents of tattered and lo-fi noise, evoking something of the expansive and populated asteroid belt that rings our Sun, neighbours trapped forever in a ring, each one many miles and more apart. That melancholy bleeds through into finalé “The Last Bison”, bringing even more crushing melancholy into proceedings but following the same cookie-cutter flow of all the previous pieces; it opens to unassuming, barely shifting drones which continue bleakly for an excessive period of time before transitioning into driven synth riffs and driving basslines imbibing some weird sense of migratory urgency. Ultimately it disappears in the same way as every other piece though; with no more energy it lazily cuts its textural complexity to near-zero before fading to black.

The other tracks have a rather more empowered and ambitious attitude, but still maintain the idiosyncrasies of the other pieces. “Black Sky And Cosmic Dust” is a decent followup to the opener, it must be said, taking a rather Psytrance approach (ala Carbon Based Lifeforms) in its crushingly dark and deceptively quickly cruising thrum. It has a bouncy but driving dry synth line that supplements the more proactive early drones and electronic flangings, faint twinklings in the great dark. Similarly bold, almost percussive, beats rise out of “Beyond The Orbital River” as well, except they’re no longer bright and vaguely carefree and soaked in an unshakeable anxiety as the cold pseudo-winds wind through the mix. It’s fast(ish) and bolder than any other track, but its rather pointless monotony and crushingly boring repetition feels so unrewarding, especially when it does nothing more in its closing moments than simply fade away. Deeply anticlimactic.

Really that’s the crux of the problem for me with this release; it hovers in the realm of interesting, compelling music but does nothing to break itself out of the hugely disappointing repetitive structures it builds for itself; nnord lock themselves into corners it appears they can’t get out of once they initiate those circular synth lines and it’s really frustrating to listen to. That aside, there is some interesting Ambient and Drone minimalism occurring throughout; the atmospheres they summon through the eerily calm and bleak background noise are commendable, it’s just the core of their pieces are so unsatisfying and tiresome to listen to. I’ve tried to pick its strongest suites but the reality is this is only good if you really turn your brain off and not focus on how mundane it so frequently is.

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