British techno house legends Orbital are back with Wonky, their first album since they went on hiatus in 2004.
If you are wondering who Orbital is and you are approximately 30 years old, you were probably introduced to them while watching the movie Hackers. Hackers will forever be known as the movie that Angelina Jolie appeared naked in and for the song “Halcyon and On and On.” In my opinion, this song is way better than Angelina Jolie appearing naked. Angelina “Please eat a cheeseburger” Jolie has always looked like she was one pound above being dead from starvation, but we’re not here to discuss anorexia in Hollywood. “Halcyon,” and the extended version on the Hackers soundtrack, remains one of my favorite tracks of all time. It is responsible for turning me on to electronic music, and probably scores of other people. So I was pretty excited to learn Orbital was producing a new album.
Orbital was always leagues above the “uhn-tiss” sound often used to describe techno music. They incorporated samples and melodies as additional layers to create a much fuller, complex sound that progressively changes through the song so that nothing ever feels dull or repetitive.Wonky gives you the same feeling. Its sound reminds me of the songs they were producing in the mid 90s. I had a hard time figuring out if this was a good thing or not. A lot has changed since the 90s in the music world. A lot of tracks on Wonky felt like b-sides from Orbital’s popular albums. While I enjoyed what I heard, nothing really jumped out at me the way “Halcyon” did 10+ years ago.
What I did hear were some attempts to recreate previous success. “New France” seems to imitate “Halcyon” by attempting to infuse the song with powerful vocals. “Halcyon” did this to a great degree of success with a sample of then popular Kristy Hankshaw; “New France” does this with the amazing Zola Jesus. And Zola Jesus can sing – probably better than Kristy Hankshaw. “New France” sounds great, but it doesn’t match up to the classic that is “Halcyon.” The track, despite all its strengths, just doesn’t come together like previous Orbital songs.
And that’s how I felt about Wonky in general. A lot of the tracks are enjoyable, but they are missing whatever that thing is that makes a song truly great. A lot of the tracks feel like echos of the past, trying to be something they just are not. It’s like everything is just shy of being amazing, but the missing element is something that one must stumble across by accident.
Despite this, you should not dismiss Wonky entirely. It’s hard to compare recent Orbital material to their past work, which is considered classic in the techno genre. For Orbital fans and people that have been disappointed by recent techno acts, Wonky is worth your time. Just know you won’t be blown away.
Party goer opinions
Adam: “It sounds like elevator music, if it were in a video game.”
Tim: “Sounds like a ‘Hackers 2′ soundtrack.
Verdict: Wonky is not for everyone. Definitely check it out if you liked past Orbital work or want to reminisce about the rave scene in the 90s.
Stand out tracks: “Never”, “New France.”
Videos from the Wonky
“New France” featuring Zola Jesus
“Wonky” featuring Lady Leshurr