After hearing (and arguably falling in love with) “Inhale” – the debut single by Random Orchestra – earlier this year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out what the exciting Berlin-based duo had in store for their debut album. Thankfully including a copy of the record in their PR, I’ve lived and breathed this record for the last three months, and have gotten to know it intimately. I can easily say that Membrane is one of my favourite IDM albums from the last few years, showcasing incredible depth in songwriting and production. And all that from a debut, too.
Xaver Hirsch and Oliver Gehrmann make up Random Orchestra, and the project isn’t your usual music act. They have a big focus on the visual side of A/V too, creating detailed and sophisticated visuals to accompany their songs, which has also been a joy of listening to the album first. It’s almost like reading the book before the film, knowing the film will be great, but unsure of the imagery used. “Inhale” was accompanied by an exceptional video that merged CGI with real photography to create a complete experience that I’ve enjoyed many times since. Details of the album are scarce on the internet, so one hopes they release a full assortment of videos to match their music, similar to Lemon Jelly‘s ’64-95′.
The eight tracks on the album each have their own unique flavour and style to them, with some reminding me more of the heavily layered, yet beautiful Bonobo, whilst others veer off more towards the more experimental side of IDM. Certainly, looking at the duos complete package, you have to surmise that Max Cooper also played an influence, another artist who offers videos to match his experimental music. “Inhale” remains one of my favourites from the album, yet I was particularly blown away by the second track, “Atria”, featuring gorgeous vocals by Guigui. It is a short, yet very sweet track that is built on melancholy, yet thanks to the stunning tones from Guigui and the excellent escalation of the backing music, it also breathes a wave of calm into you. Starting with the vocals featured front and centre, the music swells in the background, with intense bass patterns layered over bombastic synths to really make this track hit home.
“Decay” reminds me a lot of the more downtempo house artists of the 2010s, especially Burial. Using simple, slightly jarring sounds that get you shuffling on the spot to begin with, they soon introduce the song’s main feature: the thick bass that ties the whole lot together. This clever escalation is a trait that Random Orchestra has nailed in the album, especially on “Cortex”, the preceding track. Again starting very minimal, more in the style of Boards of Canada, overlayed with a vocal sample about humanities degradation of the planet, the track seems unassuming to begin with. At the end of the first section of the sample, the pair introduce flashes of what is to come, before unleashing the true drop of the album. Soaking this track in on a big subwoofer is essential, the whole room filling with gloriously mixed bass, that hits as deep as the sample. I will stand firm in my position that Koan Sound have the best percussion and bass game in electronic music, but damn, Random Orchestra come close here.
Another track, another style seems to be a key mantra for Random Orchestra. “Replicate” is a stunning, minimal track that allows you room to breathe after the enveloping bass from “Cortex”. As I’m replaying Mass Effect Legendary Edition, I particularly appreciated the spacey vibes in “Replicate” and “Circles”, both track exuding ample amounts of sci-fi for my taste whilst sounding exceptional at the same time. The way the pair pull sounds around their mix to distract your attention is amazing, highlighting beats and effects off centre to keep your ears tuned in.
Wrapping up the album is the excellent track “Exhale”, the perfect counterpart to “Inhale”. It is a great album closer because it brings back a bit more energy and danciness to the music and makes you want more from Random Orchestra. Starting with a tantric drum section, similar to something you’d hear again from early 2010s house like John Talabot, it quickly shifts into a trance, synth-led finale. This track is incredibly enveloping yet comforting, swallowing you in layers of great bass and excellent synths. Throughout the record the production is unbelievable, and you don’t need a decent pair of headphones to enjoy the sounds either. What a stunning debut – I hope these guys get the exposure they so desperately deserve and we get see much more of Random Orchestra in years to come!