Eight years is a lifetime in electronic music, so for Orbital to come back with their first studio album since 2004 would be a risky move if they weren’t fully confident in the substance of their new material. As it turns out, this is not a duo in the last throes of their musical lives – rather it marks the beginning of a new and potentially very exciting chapter for the Hartnoll brothers.
The weight of expectation has hung heavy over them since the 1996 album In Sides, where they mastered forms both large and small, producing in The Box and The Girl With The Sun In Her Head a couple of compact electronic symphonies that suggested they were ready for the world of the soundtrack. So it proved, with Octane in 2003, but their shorter work, while still hitting a consistently high standard, did not quite break through to the exalted levels of Chime or Belfast.
Yet Wonky, despite its ambiguous title, suggests the brothers are firmly back in their instinctive groove. They have company, too, with Lady Leshurr and Zola Jesus providing a vocal each – the latter especially an inspired move, making New France an anthem par excellence. This is the first of a trio of heavyweights at the album’s core, with Distractions providing a perfect match between its big beat and fractured vocal hook, and Stringy Acid offering a glorious slab of classic, sun drenched techno, the old Orbital grasp for structure well in place.
The duo retain their bittersweet harmonies, too, which are best glimpsed in One Big Moment and Straight Sun, setting the album out as an essentially human piece of work, its positivity balanced by the odd regretful glance in to the near distance.
Towards the end there is a suspicion of the Hartnolls trying just a tad too hard to embrace more recent trends, with Beelzedub introducing a wiggly dubstep bass that draws straight from the album’s title. It’s a touch derivative, but covered by the signature Hartnoll production going on up top, boosted by extra studio work from Flood. Less convincing is the title track itself, which will undoubtedly work better live, but which on record comes across like a Simian Mobile Disco fire starter. Parity is restored with final track Where Is It Going?, another instrumental home banker to end.
These are minor quibbles, though, for trumping any slight bouts of negativity is the realisation that Orbital are right back on form, sounding assured and instinctive, ready to seize the moment once again and take their music to another level. It’s a case of less Wonky, more straight ahead.