Review: Orbital – Wonky
Published on April 10th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
The Hartnoll brothers return with their first studio album in eight years, their eighth overall, and I eight to say it but…no, let’s not let the entire direction of this review hinge upon one tenuous, shoehorned-in little pun. This is in the main fine stuff from one of the UK’s most revered electronic acts of all time. (Come to think of it, are we too late to get that quote tagged onto the CD packaging? Oh well, maybe the press release for any future reissue…)
“One Big Moment” gets proceedings underway in wondrously twinkly fashion, with indistinct voices chattering hypnotically away and felty synths parping out from all around as if emitting pockets of steam from pipes. There follows a pulsing techno pathway into a popping ‘n’ clicking electronic wonderland that pushes all the right buttons; the otherworldly chord progressions are actually quite simple when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, but in terms of all-round production it’s tarted up to nigh-on perfection. A stunning start.
Unfortunately, the immediately ensuing “Straight Sun” is pounding yet disappointingly unexpansive after the grand entrance of “One Big Moment”, but “Never” gets things nicely back on track with icy drops of synth that send shivers down the spine of an otherwise warm and fuzzy music environment. It’s a bit like Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James Album with all the beats ironed flat, and I mean that in a good way.
“New France” features the ethereal interjections of Zola Jesus but registers as fairly unremarkable, disappointingly chillwave and oddly dated-sounding – admittedly that may have been the point – before “Distractions” furthers the intriguingly patchy sequence with a swaggering stomp/stomping swagger, a disorientingly manipulated female voice sample (is she saying “oh we”, “grow weed” or “Crawley”?), and a key progression that turns psychedelically into itself while fast rubbery synths give the track momentum. At this juncture, it strikes that each of Wonky‘s tracks is a kind of self-contained journey unto itself, but that they are seemingly designed to flow together like a series of complementary islands. I guess you could say that about a lot of albums, but still…
Elsewhere, “Stringy Acid” is a discordantly rave-y thing that juxtaposes crystalline, hiccupping synths with a thunderously squelchy synth-bass cannon, eventually building into a piercingly plastic string cacophony, while “Beelzedub” does fairly well by its title, indeed sounding like demonic dub with a ‘wob wob’ here and a jarring Aphex freakout there, before evolving into a big ol’ stomp while wielding first a chattering percussion speed-up and then a berserkly filtered synth squall like lightsabers.It then breaks into a harsh synth symphony (synthphony?) hitching a ride atop an old-school jungle rhythm, and as you might be able to glean from this paragraph’s frenzied grasps for suitable adjectives and adverbs that it really is quite thrillingly mental.
The title track starts out like a weirded out “Blue Monday”, with various things filtering up and down in the mix like a game of synth snakes and ladders; guest vocalist Lady Leshurr proves herself a star in the making here, her breakneck, abrasive yet otherworldly delivery matching this crazy tune blow-for-blow in the mindfuck stakes, at least until it starts to sound like it’s sampling the “no no no” cat. Yep.
Curtain-closer “Where is it Going?” welds an old-school techno sensibility onto a strangely wistful melodic instinct, resulting in something suitably mesmerising. There’s a rave-y sort of ‘motorbike starting’ thing going on, and it (again) builds into something quite vast so as to ensure that Wonky is bookended by epics.
In short, welcome back Orbital! Oh, and be sure to catch them live if thudding beats, splendorous synths and mind-altering techno light shows sounds like your kind of thing. Seems they’re playing the Royal Albert Hall tonight; daaa-yuuum, as they say…
Rocksucker says: Three and a Half Quails out of Five!