For a decade from 1991-2001, British techno duo Orbital were one of the biggest names in dance music. Their 1993 album Orbital 02 is considered a classic by many in the dance community. They achieved mainstream success in their native UK as well as in the US with singles like “Chime,” “Are We Here?,” and “The Saint.” By 2004, Orbital split up and many thought the band to be dead. In 2008, the band resurrected their career, playing major European festivals and releasing a greatest hits album. However, their new album, Wonky represents their first new album since their reformation.
Having closed their career on a string of poorly received albums, it would seem important for Orbital to reintroduce themselves to the world as a force on Wonky. Instead what Orbital do on Wonky is re-introduce themselves to the world as Orbit. The album is filled with angelic synth sounds over fairly standard drum programming. Opening track “One Big Moment” delivers perhaps the biggest punch with its pitch-bending synths over a driving dance beat. The airy synth sounds are kept mainly in the background for the track giving it some levity without sounding too “in the sky.”
The majority of the album is spent “in the sky.” “Never” is mainly comprised of the “angelic vocal” synth setting with the “celestial drops” setting playing second fiddle. It essentially sounds like the soundtrack of going to heaven; it is relaxing and ethereal but a little boring. “New France” is Orbital’s big collaborative effort with Zola Jesus but Zola is generally confined to being a real life “angelic vocal” setting. Her minimal vocals are used as no more than a sample buried deep within the mix of four-on-the-floor drums and celestrial synths. It makes me wonder why the group bothered tapping her and surely paying a large appearance fee when the same effect could have been garnered with the use of a sample for far less money.
While the airy content of the album is not overly exciting for modern dance listeners, it is better than when Orbital attempt to go modern. “Beezledub” is the duo’s grand foray into the dubstep genre. The track sounds like an early Joker remix of The Chemical Brothers‘ “Setting Sun.” The track is slow and sounds like Orbital is just trying to prove to listeners that they can make the bass wobble if they want.
But with the exception of “Beezledub,” there is nothing particularly wrong with Wonky. The album shows Orbital doing what they do best. My concern is “who wants to hear Orbital do what they do best?” A decade and a half removed from the rave culture of the mid-90s that gave rise to them, Orbital sound more like an artifact of a past time than a glimpse into the future. In a dance culture that is concerned with “raging,” Orbital are striving for something much more Godly. While I can appreciate their effort to a certain extent, I wonder how many others under the age of 30 can?
MP3: Orbital “One Big Moment”