Review Summary: Wonky is not Orbital's best work, but it's still an incredibly fun party record, which also serves as the great comeback few expected from the Brits.
This is a big one guys: after a long nine-year wait, the dance pioneers of Orbital arise from the dead to bring forth new studio material, after a series of well-received reunion concerts. Wonky
is the name of the game and the brothers Hartnoll describe the album as "curious, whimsical and full of emotion". Which is an accurate statement if you ask me, because although the album only contains nine tracks, every single one of them constantly transforms and mutates throughout their playing time to keep things fresh and interesting. What's also evident from the get-go is that the tracks here are shortened up, made more compact in comparison with their older work. Which gives off the feeling that Wonky
is a functional record, with its primary goal consisting of raising the qualities of the live shows to new heights.
Nevertheless, the record can and does stand on its own. The sound applied here remains typical Orbital: it's crystal clear and makes great use of textures of the purest kind. It's made up of many eery and etherical soundscapes which are being steadily supported by the varied beats they know how to create so well. This results in a sound that's very futuristic, but not alien-like or bleak. On the other hand, Wonky
isn't just a carbon copy of Orbital's revered 90s work, because the brothers have updated their productions with modern studio techniques. They also connect and respond to the current trends in the dance scene, but they twist and blend them into their own artistic visions. This does however result into one giant turd in the form of the title track, which starts promising and exciting, but totally falls apart when Lady Leshurr's horrific rap performance starts.
Luckily, the other songs are as good as you can expect from the legendary British dance producers. Firstly, on 'New France', they've collaborated with another artist, namely Zola Jezus, whose nonsensical but angel-like and powerful vocals intertwine splendidly with the anthemic trance on the background. Elsewhere, 'Straight Sun' and 'Never' are recognized as steady, but at the same time chilled-out party tracks. These were already released as appetizers early on, but the songs stay equally as strong in the context of the whole record. They're also a good indication on what to expect from Wonky
as a whole.
But they're not the highlights. That honour is reserved for 'Distractions', which - after a joyful and euphoric start of the album - glides into a darker IDM territory, where the schizophrenic and hesitant rhythms are being capsulated in the deceitfully calm melody, which gradually mutates into a frantic electro ride. It's telling that the highlight is also the longest track here, by the way. Another surprise is 'Beelzedub', because the idea of "Orbital does dubstep" isn't really all that attractive on paper. But somehow it works. The Hartnolls play around with the oldschool wobble sound of Digital Mystikz and inject it with a short-circuited power current, thus creating a timewarp to the heydays of the British rave scene. If only The Prodigy's recent work were this exciting.
Let's be clear: Wonky
isn't Orbital's best album (although they mentioned that it would be on their Twitter page), but it's still a darn good comeback album. The record may lack the innovation of their 90's masterpieces, but the brothers have at least found their inventiveness back. As a result, Wonky is just an incredible fun
party record. And at the moment, that's really all I'm asking for.