Of all the many reunions in recent years, perhaps the most pleasantly successful has been that of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (a.k.a. OMD). Successful not because they’ve enjoyed the popularity they experienced 30 years ago when “If You Leave,” their contribution to the soundtrack of John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink movie, was a Top 10 hit, but because the new albums they’ve released have been every bit as engaging as the records they first made as electronic music vanguards in the late ’70s and early ‘80s. Both 2010’s History of Modern and 2013’s English Electric exhibited a sort of retro-futurism that was evocative of the band’s beginnings while still being forward-thinking.
Combining a palette of electronic sounds with inherent pop instincts, the group’s latest, The Punishment of Luxury (White Noise Records), shares the aesthetic of its predecessors. The duo—bassist Andy McCluskey and keyboardist Paul Humphreys—possesses the unwavering ability to imbue shiny synth tones and mechanized beats with a certain humanity. Indeed, only OMD could make the immunoglobulin gene family sound romantic (“Isotype”). As in the past, the band’s best work is marked by the juxtaposition of man and machine. On “What Have We Done,” Humphreys laments unfulfilled dreams atop a mechanized backing. With even his voice at times being processed, that man/machine line is intermittently blurred, which seems to be OMD’s intent; “La Mitrailleuse” opens with the repeated command of “bend your body to the will of the machine.” We may not know if androids dream of electric sheep, but if there’s a soundtrack to their slumber, it surely sounds like this.