50:35 min • ACP • April 2, 2012
It’s about 7pm. You’ve been sitting in the sun all day drinking cider, eating proper sausages in buns, and fat burgers with too much relish. The BBQ playlist on your iPod dock stops, and you put on the perfect album for a summer night. An album full of blurry drums and hazy noises. An album that’s musically introspective and yet headily uplifting. That album is Wonky by legendary dance act Orbital.
Orbital’s last studio album, 2004’s Blue Album, was a satisfactory Orbital record. At their best, they’re the top of their genre, at their weakest they’re still better than more dance acts around. And having remixed everyone from Madonna to Depeche Mode, the rest of the music industry seems to think so too. Still, with the release of collection 20 in 2009 I feared that maybe their days of making music were over, that Orbital had retired. Luckily I was wrong.
In many ways I find Wonky far more immediate than their previous albums. It’s archetypal Orbital, but there are shades of the other styles and influences that have flooded their career over the past twenty years. As dance music progresses, so do Orbital, and although there’s no doubt in your mind that Wonky is classic Orbital, there is enough flashes of ingenuity to keep it really interesting.
Opener ‘One Big Moment’ is epic. Building from vocal samples and electronic chimes into a chainsaw dub chill-out extravaganza, it epitomises a summer’s night with a cold cider, and builds to an eargasmic conclusion. We find ourselves in familiar Orbital territory with the track that follows, ‘Straight One’. The distorted piano chased by wobble bass, rounded off with a euphoric drum beat, made sure I was unable to keep still. There’s something distinctly modern about it, but also reassuringly retro.
‘Beezledub’, with its stuttering dubstep and military drums, provides the harshest moment of the album, and it’s the perfect antidote to the trippy dance of yesteryear that pervades other tracks, like the particularly hallucinogenic ‘String Acid’. But it’s not all trip heavy instrumentals. ‘New France’, featuring Zola Jesus, recalls the dark intensity of Groove Armada’s genre breaking Black Light, as do many of the darker moments on Wonky. It shimmers with a dark moonshine that managed to hook me in but made me want to dance facing skyward. The title track features vocals from female MC Lady Leshurr, whose 2010 single ‘Leggo’ was the best British hip hop single since Dizee Rascal’s ‘I Luv U’ in 2003, and her collaboration with Orbital stands out not only as one of the best tracks on display here, but also one of the best tracks of their career. With its lopsided samples and mc’d vocals it manages to be the darkest moment on the album whilst still retaining enough of a commercial edge to be the coolest anthem of the summer.
In fact, this could be the best album I’ve heard since Black Light. Only the aptly titled closer ‘Where Is It Going’ strikes an odd note, and is maybe the wrong side of mainstream dance to fit in with the off-kilter selection on offer here. With the market being saturated by Ibiza-baiting dance “anthems”, featuring everyone from Nicki Minaj to Sia, authentic dance music is hard to come by, so it’s comforting that, in time for summer, we finally have a dance album that’s far more than just filler. All hail the return of Orbital!