Apr 2, 2012

Orbital's Wonky: a review

Orbital's history in brief: rave band reinvents the techno album, gets a bit political, conquers the rock festivals, release one album for every first-era Doctor Who, play their last ever gig on John Peel, disappear into side-projects, start gigging again then begin to worry fans that their eighth outing could be a Paul McGann.

It's not.

Their eighth album is Wonky in name but not in style. There was a time when Orbital couldn't put a foot wrong, so is their long-playing comeback worthy? What does God say? Much more importantly, what do I say?

I wrote this as I listened to the album for the first time tonight. Let's explore Wonky track by track.

Track one: One Big Moment teases you with looping voice samples of Duck Feet-era whimsy before hitting you, at precisely 70 seconds, between your techno nostrils and declaring Wonky as the best Orbital album for yonkers.

The processed mayhem is a delightful statement of intent so early on.

Track two: The scuzzy LFOs of Straight Sun mix Snivilisation wafer-thin monophonic synth lines with more plodding, stomping Blue Orbital, and it's no less pleasing for any of that.

Tracks three and four: The slow builder Never makes a feature of those trademark half-bar bridges that litters their music, while the proggy New France seems to be Zola Jesus filtering Rihanna's "ay ay" vocal cut with an intense synth rock sweat-in. Both work with limited ideas to great effect.

Track five: Distractions is the least immediate track here, a pastoral meander perhaps, although the furious drums suggests a possible live favourite at work.

Track six: I'm not sure if Belfast has Beaches, but Stringy Acid mixes two very different Orbital periods whilst apparently intending to emulate the sound of seagulls being shot. It's the one full-on floor filler on this album.

Track seven: The Hartnoll brothers attempting dubstep on the multiple-personality Beelzedub (a remake of Satan) is a bit like your dad wandering into a club and breakdancing, body-popping and footstepping the rest of the dancefloor into a week next Tuesday. It's a bit all over the place, but still, y'know, better than 99% of all dubstep tracks.

Track eight: Title piece Wonky has Lady Leshurr busting rhymes whilst she plays Whac-a-Mole with cats. Its toe-dip into new territory reminds us Orbital were often as much of a house act as a techno group - and also that Paul Hartnoll had a rather successful collaboration once with David Gray. Larks.

Track nine: Where Is It Going? brings us back to the theme of the album: emotive, punchy classic Orbital, deceptively simple, positively angelic. The whole album, although not perfect, is a brilliant return to form and is the sound of two guys finding their mojo once again. Although you find yourself yearning for a long epic to finish with: Wonky is suddenly gone and the title of the last track is left dangling in the air.

If this is their Paul McGann, then I'm already really looking forward to their Christopher Eccleston. Wait. Haven't they had him already?

Orbital's history in brief: they're back and they're better than I expected. Wonky is one of their best.

Further Fats: Some lists containing rhyming Autechre, Orbital in colour, and the entire history of dance music

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