For the longest time, I always dismissed Orbital as some spiritual continuation of Kraftwerk. To me, they came from the same mentality: create pleasant IDM that doesn’t try to stretch the imagination. It’s only now, after their first album in eight years, that I realize how wrong I was.
Since Orbital’s break-up in 2004, the electronic music scene has completely reinvented itself many times over. Gone are the days of rave, electronica, and breakbeat. Orbital reintroduces itself to a world consumed with dubstep, glitch, and electro-house. These days, you are more likely to hear an electronic song on the radio than a rock song. This means that Orbital have to adapt and change and still attempt to keep their fans.
That makes “Wonky” a different kind of release for Orbital. They have to adapt to these drastic shifts in sound. The core techno sound of Orbital is still there, but little dubstep flourishes and glitchy stutters make their way into the music, bringing what would normally be a somewhat dated release into modern times. This is most evident on the dubstep-infused “Beelzedub”, which meanders its way just short of a Skrillex-y drop. While it might seem like a bit of a cop-out for Orbital to make dubstep, it’s really not. They take the genre and make it their own, and the complex production allows for the bass wobble to blend seamlessly with their signature bright harmonies.
“Wonky” caters to modern audiences, serving up beats of epic proportions. They attempt to boil their sound into a few short minutes in each song. That being said, be it for better or for worse, this isn’t the most steady release in Orbital’s catalog. They experiment quite a bit here, seemingly searching for a way to blend their signature sound with the new advancements in electronic music. The title track “Wonky” embodies the essence of, well, the genre wonky. It’s unstable, volatile, and generally edgy, with Lady Leshurr’s machine gun rap verses adding deep texture to the piece. “Never” finds Orbital in more blatant dream-pop territory, pairing soothing melodies, vocal stutters, and sweeping synths to make one entrancing texture. “Stringy Acid” is an interesting piece of house music; it mixes an unmistakable four-on-the-floor beat with beautiful, swirling strings that call Moby to mind.
It’s this kind of versatility that makes “Wonky” a great addition to Orbital’s catalog. Their return will require them to adapt to a quickly changing industry, and “Wonky” seems to be the start of that reinvention. They reach out to other more modern genres for inspiration, borrowing a little bit from each to craft this solid release (Even Zola Jesus, lady of the hour, makes her way onto the record). You can still hear the influence of 70s electronica in their music; some of the programmed beats and synths sound a little dated, but old habits die hard. I have the utmost confidence that Orbital’s follow-up will solidify their new place in the industry as the old-timers that still make great, relevant music.