For their upcoming album The Altogether (due September 4), Orbital have cobbled together the obligatory thumping dance beats, euphoric techno rhythms and video game blips and bleeps, but they've also taken a few unusual paths in their pursuit of aural ecstasy.
"Doctor?" offers their version of the theme from the popular English TV show "Doctor Who," "Tension" samples punkabilly shock-rockers the Cramps, and "Illuminate," which will likely be the first single in the U.S., features guest vocals by acoustic singer/songwriter David Gray. The reflective track balances Gray's emotive drawl with shuffling beats and a syncopated keyboard line. A second mix, which turbo-charges the dancebeats, won't be on the record, but may go to radio. Orbital co-founder Phil Hartnoll had no problem hooking up with Gray because the two acts share not only the same manager, but some of the same family members. "David Gray is my brother-in-law," Hartnoll said with a laugh during an interview at New York's Time Hotel on Wednesday. "I'm married to Rachel Rooney, and he's married to Olivia Rooney, so he's my children's uncle." "Illuminate" was originally written as an instrumental track for the group's 1999 album The Middle of Nowhere, but Orbital thought it felt out of place alongside the longer, more introspective songs on that disc. Then when Phil and his brother/bandmate Paul were putting together material for The Altogether, they dug out the tape and decided to ask Gray to contribute. "He was around one day having a cup of coffee, and I said, 'Hey Dave, get the microphone and see if we can do something,' " Hartnoll recalled. "It was really no big deal, and it worked out really well, so we put it on the album." One of the most striking and unusual tracks on The Altogether is "Tootled," which is composed of samples from seven Tool songs reassembled in an unsettling dancey framework. The relationship between the two seemingly disparate acts goes back to 1997 when they shared the stage at the Lollapalooza festival. "We really got into them after seeing them night after night," said Hartnoll. "When we got back home we bought all their records. Then one day we were sitting around the studio and we just grabbed a load of their records to sample some of that juicy guitar they use. It all took off from there, and it came out of complete admiration. We were just having fun with Tool." As much fun as Orbital had crafting "Tootled," the Hartnolls were initially a little worried the guys in Tool would be offended by the completed cut. "We saw them last Friday in Germany, and we were kind of nervous," admitted Hartnoll. "But they said they really enjoyed the song, which was great to hear."