Orbiting Souls vividly recalls that mid-nineties period when B12 were in their element whilst also sounding classically timeless, perhaps even more so than some of their earlier work.
There’s no denying the pivotal role Mike Golding and Steve Rutter’s B12 label and moniker played in the development of the UK’s early electronica, techno and IDM scene. Classic LP’s like Electro-Soma—a high-point of Warp’s legendary Artificial Intelligence series—and the retro-futurist sci-fi epic Time Tourist are simply considered some of the finest works in the genre.
B12 themselves are strangely elusive, however, and seemingly nowhere near as prolific as other artists in spite of the number of aliases under which they have operated. Releasing music primarily on their own B12 Records imprint or on Warp, they were only heavily active, albeit hugely influential, between 1991 and 1995 before withdrawing into the future/past. They didn’t resurface again until 2008, with their coolly received Last Days of Silence album and some other releases by several artists on the B12 Records label.
The following year saw the release of an amazing seven-part B12 Records Archive retrospective series, each extensive double-cd collection putting paid to the idea that their output was comparatively limited, but that was the last we heard from them again. Disappearing from the limelight for so long like this this doesn’t do B12 any favors no matter how well-regarded their back-catalog is, but at least in 2015, they finally returned, albeit this time only with Steve Rutter at the helm. The spooky Bokide 325 EP was issued on Soma, but there followed the surprise announcement of another new EP, this time their debut on Amsterdam’s long-running Delsin label.
It doesn’t take long for the reason for label choice to hit home. Despite the lack of input from Michael Golding, Orbiting Souls (and indeed Bokide 325) sounds more like classic B12 than B12 have in a very long time, and yet filtered through the Delsin lens this EP sounds so unbelievably at home on the label you’d be forgiven for not actually believing it is B12.
Orbiting Souls vividly recalls that mid-nineties period when B12 were in their element whilst also sounding classically timeless, perhaps even more so than some of their earlier work. “Two Stories” features one of those typical B12 rhythms, all reverb-drenched, hollow clonk and shifting, dusty hats that combine with typical spacey ambience and hi-tech clang to create a classic sci-fi set piece. “Nautilus Horizon” is infused with machine-made melancholia, the 808s and 909s cascading over mournful strings and similarly spacious pads.
“It’s In My Blood” rattles and ricochets like a bearing in a pinball machine being pelted with hailstones, “Nothing” lumbers along in a downtempo, jazzy style that seems to channel New Electronica era As One to quirky effect, and the chaotic closer “Universal Alignment” is all multicolored sparks and corkscrew keys underpinned by melancholy strings.
In other words, it’s great, but it’s not long enough. Maybe it’s just a longing for another of those classic B12 albums talking, but the rather transitive and fragmented approach Rutter is taking to releasing new material—an EP on a label here, another on a totally unrelated label there, a self-released EP series to follow—all seems to add up to slightly less than the sum of its parts because of it.
Sure, one could argue that Bokide 325 consists of a more acid-tinged aesthetic, but the forthcoming Transient Life on De:tuned and presumably the two new EP’s due to be released on B12 sub-label Firescope Records are not exactly dissimilar.
But this is a minor, nit-picking gripe. B12 are back, and on extremely fine form. If you’re lucky, you may still be able to bag a copy of the exquisite, translucent multi-color marbled vinyl edition of this EP, housed in another fantastic sleeve with artwork by Boris Tellegen.
Orbiting Souls is available on Delsin.