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HARTNOLL BROTHERS HIT MID-’90s HEIGHTS ON TRIUMPHANT RETURN
Francis Jones, 16 Apr 2012
By critical consensus, Orbital’s peak came in 1996 with the release of In Sides. Subsequent records never quite managed to conquer the same dizzying peaks as that classic and – running low on inspiration and enthusiasm – the Hartnoll brothers called a temporary time-out in 2004. Revived as a live outfit in 2008, Wonky is the first studio album since their comeback.
‘One Big Moment’ provides immediate, thrilling confirmation that this is a band reinvigorated. It begins with a number of spoken-word fragments before an avalanche of jubilant beats comes crashing down. The throbbing tempo is taken up with interest by ‘Straight Sun’, its initial piano line soon overwhelmed by pulsing keys. ‘Stringy Acid’ taps into a similar feeling of wide-eyed rapture, multilayered synths twisting and turning with the elegance of a Nijinsky. Elsewhere, ‘Beelzedub’ – from its title to ominous atmospherics – is a clever re-imagining of ‘Satan’, whilst ‘Never’ – tiptoeing from brittle electronica into a blistering digital blowout – is Orbital at their dynamic-shifting best.
The two guest collaborations couldn’t be more different. Zola Jesus makes her spectral presence felt on the School Of Seven Bells-echoing ‘New France’, whilst Birmingham MC Lady Leshurr does her best Missy Elliott impersonation in delivering the title track’s fierce rap. Built around an arsenal of clattering beats, the latter is the most explicit attempt to update the Orbital sound. For me, though, they remain at their most compelling – as on the closing ‘Where Is It Going? – when they hit that sweet-spot between euphoric rave-up and ambient comedown.