Back in the nineties, in the early days of the internet and when rap was the newest style of music, electronica was largely confined to European raves, but a few artists broke through. Just as Underworld (QRO album review) was the definition of dark, bass-thumping clubs, Orbital embodied the post-industrial warehouse parties, with epic techno tracks like "The Box". However, the new millennium saw their acclaim diminish along with their originality, to the point of a 2004 dissolution between the pair of brothers, Paul & Phil Hartnoll. 2009 saw them reunite at some European festivals, and now comes their first post-reunion record, Wonky. While it could never be as fresh as the first time, Wonky is the Orbital who got you into electronic music before everyone else.
From the hushed voices of an old man and young child at the start of opener "One Big Moment" (very reminiscent of the start of "Satan (Industrial Standard)" from 1996’s big hit In Sides, albeit without the electro-shout of "Satan!"), Wonky brings back the old Orbital. Before there was chillwave or dub-step, Orbital was house music. The record has the more distant Orbital akin to "The Box" (also from In Sides) in "Straight Sun" and "Distractions", recapturing the dissatisfaction and disassociation with today’s world like it did twenty years ago.
Unfortunately, Wonky can’t feel as fresh as Orbital did way back when, and as the record goes on, it begins to feel a little more run-of-the-mill Orbital – even the darker "Beelzedub" suffers. And the group doesn’t have the vocal sample flare they once had (no "When time becomes a loop" looped at slightly different speeds of "Time Becomes" & "The Mobius") – instead the background vocals to "Distractions" almost sound like its about the Brawny paper towel. But worse is the title track, where guest-vocalist Lady Leshurr brings a grime-rap that is both so yesterday and doesn’t fit with Orbital of any day (the second-to-last track, it combined with the unexceptional club beats of closer "Where Is It Going?" finish the record on a down note). Much better, in both quality and fitting, is the vocals of Zola Jesus (QRO album review) on "New France".
Today, where everyone has synthesizers, Orbital just can’t be the bolt from the blue that they were twenty years ago. But the brothers Hartnoll still know their beats & electronics, and largely return to what they do best on Wonky.
MP3 Stream: "One Big Moment"