Album Review: Wonky - Orbital

Image source; BlackPlastic.co.uk, rights reserved

I recently found myself at an industry event to celebrate MySpace's relaunch. Alongside Ladyhawke and a few others, the main entertainment (free booze aside) was an Orbital DJ set. I've not really listened to any Orbital for years so my expectations were fairly low, expecting them to be (whisper it) a little over the hill...

Predictably it turns out I was wrong, for there, surrounded by several hundred advertising executives, we had quite the party, mostly due to the closing track on new album, Wonky. It turns out Orbital still know how to rock a synth and create a lot of noise.

And that is in some ways the main lesson to learn from Wonky. It's been nearly eight years since their last LP, the Blue Album, and in that time dance music has continued to change. Orbital are seemingly oblivious to that passing of time and you can't help but feel they are probably all the better for that fact. Which means at times Wonky feels downright old.

Sometimes the sense of nostalgia works and sometimes it doesn't, but this is an album that gets far more right than it does wrong. 'Beelzedub' may be heavy handed in it's use of heavy breaks and vicious bass in a way that just isn't as dark as it would like whilst struggling to achieve relevance in a world that has seen dubstep and grime but that is one of only a couple of duff moments. Opener 'One Big Moment' captures the joyous shared spirit of rave perfectly, proof that sounding almost like it could have been made in the same session as 'Chime' doesn't hurt it a jot.

Both guest turns on the album also come off well. Zola Jesus features on 'New France', an album highlight that takes its cue from Hooky's bass playing. And whilst current single 'Wonky', featuring Lady Leshurr, shouldn't really work it somehow does, the barreling drums and blood pressure raising melodies somehow making up for a potentially over-the-top vocal - though even the vocal shines at the bridge.

Wonky is best when it feels most like the boys aren't even trying though. 'Stringy Acid' throws a euphoric acid climax in at the album's mid-point that sounds fresh simply because you won't have heard anything peaking so blatantly for so long. The best is saved for last though - closing things out is 'Where Is It Going?' and it feels like a response to questions over where the the Hartnolls can go from here. The answer would appear to be back to what they do best - massively uplifting, end of the night anthems that make advertising execs dance like loons in front of their colleagues. Who wants to grow old gracefully anyway?

Wonky is out now on ACP, available from Amazon.co.uk on CD, Digipack CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links]. Stream now on Spotify:

Download: Lie Down (Live At The Green Room) - Long Range

BlackPlastic never really got around to properly listening to the debut album, Madness & Me, from Phil Hartnoll (of Orbital) and Nick Smith's Long Range, but from what we hear it is one of the best ambient albums in years. If this track is anything to go by then that sounds believable.

BlackPlastic struggles with ambient. It seems to be a genre of choice for many a bedroom producer but it is incredibly difficult to make it work and to produce something with any real emotional gravitas. Much like Global Communication, whose 76:14 is probably the best ambient album ever produced, what makes 'Lie Down' work is that it doesn't let the genre get in the way - there is still considerable variety, ebb and flow over the track's eight-minutes, and it is unsurprisingly reminiscent of Orbital's better work.

Download 'Lie Down (Live At The Green Room)' by Long Range [right click, save as].

Long Range release a new EP, Control Me, on Pure Mint Recordings on 1 December 2009. Visit the Long Range website for more info.

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