x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Orbital's comeback album thrills

Fans could be forgiven for approaching this comeback record with some trepidation, but thankfully the siblings' creative systems are rebooted.

Orbital
Wonky
(ACP)
****

Brothers-in-dance Paul and Phil Hartnoll were wise to hang up their famous head-mounted lamps in 2004. Orbital had brought the vibrant rave scene into people's homes with several groundbreaking albums from the late 1980s onwards, but while the band remained a popular live attraction, their studio recordings became increasingly irrelevant. Eight years on and fans could be forgiven for approaching this comeback record with some trepidation, but thankfully the rest period has clearly rebooted the siblings' creative systems. Road-tested on live audiences, Wonky achieves the enviable marriage of floor-filling beats and the sort of intricate sonic textures that reward the purchasers of high-end headphones. The Hartnolls scored a few movies back in the 1990s and this new collection came together via a "road map" they drew "as a landscape" on the studio wall, according to Paul. It certainly builds impressively, from complex, contemplative beginnings. One Big Moment takes Atari bleeps to stellar heights, Straight Sun and Distractions combine melody, melancholy and mighty bass riffs rather wonderfully and, although the US singer Zola Jesus adds a Rihanna-like honk to New France, it should still send a shiver down many festival-goers' vertebral columns this summer. Things get beefier later. Beelzedub is particularly sinister and industrial before a dramatic drum-and-bass denouement, but the well-named title track is the highlight, featuring what sounds like panicked pets in a wildly veering supercar piloted by the brilliant Birmingham rapper Lady Leshurr. "This beat is taking over me," she warbles, while always sounding in full control. There's life in these old dogs yet.

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