Monday, 2 April 2012

Orbital - Wonky


English-speaking nations have remained a strong and vigilant link in notoriously-revolutionary sounds this past age regarding sibling links, both the British Isles and the United States alike. The Beach Boys, Oasis, The White Stripes & Boards of Canada are a few quick-to-mind examples. Whether it be rock, electronic or something completely out of the blue there's no denying that family ties have been a continuing theme that have brought about interesting results. Orbital, brothers Phil & Paul Hartnoll, find themselves in an interesting place in their career. Having welcomely returned to our eyes with headline slots coated in amazing feats of light, colour and performance - Glastonbury two years ago remains a prime favourite of mine - the duo return with 'Wonky'. Seven years after their previous release The Blue Album - and a shade under twenty since similarly-themed albums Green & Brown (or Orbital & Orbital 2 as they are also known) - an album which, from its cover, is hardly referable to just one tone, signals both a rekindling of old themes and a relishing of new ones too.

For a duo renowned for their tranced synths and heart-thumping beats that catapulted them amidst the early revolutionaries of 90s electronica, 'One Big Moment' presents itself more down-to-Earth and, dare I say it, 'pop'-ier than their previous five-plus minute compositions. But that's not anything degrading. Between the hops and flutters of glowing electronics, there are the more recognizable retro drum alignments that spark and tap at the foreground. It's not a heavy-hitter nor is it anything to intoxicate the ear, but there is clear evidence of the duo's expanding sound that, as stated, is a key feature on this record. Piano keys take centre stage on 'Straight Sun' thereafter, and while they are used in conjunction with the continuing glitches and sparks of analog jumbling, the album once more shifts from optimistic electronica to testing techno, calming euphoria to panoramic traversing. These sounds have featured frequently in their early discographies but never has the overall execution come across, not so much indecisive - that would imply lack of thought and direction - but rather a sense this album is shifting in multiple directions across many planes of musical existence at once. And this is what Wonky manifests as but, fortunately, embarks on with miraculous result.

Lead-single 'New France', vocals provided to us by ambient synth-pop artist Zola Jesus, follows on from the forward thump of hollow warmth and polygonal beat that is 'Never' with Jesus' voice shifting between organic struggle and synthetic gargling amidst all the rustle and bustle of the the booming electronic and blossoming of synths and bass alike that soon commands the song. Jesus doesn't necessarily stand against the musical construct but rather feels clouded and enveloped in this shape-shifting of hot and cold concoction. But 'Distractions' stands one, maybe two tiers above the former in initiating us into this fantastical void of roaming electronics and bass-heavy beats. Reminiscent of their early grand-scale ventures - 'Lush' and 'The Girl With The Sun In Her Head' are first to pop into my head - the track perfectly captures the peak and climbatization of vocals and melodic electronics to its maximum. As with these previous masterpieces of glorious 8-minute ventures, 'Distractions' draws us into this lucid surreality of reflection and refraction.

Yes, surreal is the right word to use when we find ourselves using the words Orbital and dubstep in the same sentence, as we get to 'Beelzedub', the album's darkest yet most liberating epicenter of activity. But if you were expecting the typical overindulgence of WUBs here, you might be slightly relieved/disappointed, as the Hartnoll's instead use dub's grungy sound to immense effect. And whether it's between the breakdowns of lighter synthetics or when it finally charges forth amidst a clattering of just-as-bassy drums, Orbital have proven that even dubstep can work as a catalyst, as well as in unison, to a sound soaked in an energetic resurgence. The album's self-titled track, featuring Lady Leshurr can't be faulted for adventurousness but in relation to early tracks, feels a lot more manic and ill-conceived than previous compositions. Leshurr's vocals though do provide some much-needed drive, does come across in places as a little random and bloated and only hinders the electronics.

Even if you want to linger on the idea that these guys have returned to a dance scene that has changed (for better or for worse), and feels less like the tensity of the early 90s their creativity is better suited for, you can't deny that this exchange of the old establishment and the new one present on 'Wonky' brings about some interesting listens. There will be those who see this as maybe undeveloped or disrespective of the entirety of their back-catalogue. But so too there will be those who feel the need to fly the flags and wave the glow-sticks to this 50-minute marker, and why shouldn't they? Orbital have come back with a bang. And if we need some luminescent lighting and large-scale culminations of old and new to maximize this duo's sound, do you know what I say? Go for it.
~Jordan

8.0

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