Bill Nelson’s Orchestra Arcana: Optimism

Yorkshire’s answer to Brian Eno reboots his 1980s synth-rock archive.

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Due to a contractual dispute with his record label, prolific art punk turned electro rock pioneer Bill Nelson was obliged to record under his Orchestra Arcana alias on several 1980s releases.

Recorded in the mid-80s in Nelson’s Echo Observatory home studio – as he grandly christened the room above his kitchen – Optimism was an album of musique concrète montages, programmed beats and loops, layered with found sounds and vocal samples.

It wasn’t released until 1988, when boxy drum-machine funk such as Everyday Is A Better Day and the Paul Hardcastle-style collage Kut Up In Cartoonsville already sounded a little dated.

Remastered and expanded for this handsome reissue, the album’s chief appeal will mainly be among vintage synth-pop connoisseurs and Nelson completists. But Optimism still offers treats for general listeners, from the lush Eno-esque abstraction of The Receiver And The Fountain Pen to the immersive audioscape Alchemia, with its tapestry of chimes, chants and ghostly voices.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.