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.
There are many nights I struggle to fall asleep, tossing and turning even as the sky begins to light up. This is something I’ve always struggled with, and I think I’m projecting it onto not just Clark’s sixth album, "Iradelphic", but his entire body of work, so allow me to try to remove that aspect of myself from this review. As it stands, Clark to me is the sound of endless nights, of robotic sleepless hazes that blur together. It is its own drug. So, with that said:
Chris Clark’s musical style is a full, distinct IDM with lots of strings, synths, glitches, rounded sounds, robust sounds, traditional instrumentation mixed with the most accessible and beautiful ambient soundscapes this side of Boards of Canada. "Iradelphic" is a major step towards the sound I first discovered in Clark, on his album “Body Riddle”, whereas his previous two albums - “Totems Flare” and “Turning Dragon” - felt much more manic and energetic. "Iradelphic" explores a more organic, cinematic sound crafted around a well-paced album experience.
If anything, the opening track, "Henderson Wrench", is a pretty good indication of the album’s direction, a softly complex string composition that drops and builds into a careful cacophony that inspires only the most overwrought alliteration - there is some seriously deft stringwork going on here, but it maintains harmony with the cluttered track, rather than sounding like a solo. The same driving complexity takes over the following track, "Com Touch”, though I’m not sure the pitchy, plinky synth is doing the track any favours, and the entire track suffers from a schizophrenic lack of focus unusual to Clark - it sounds like two different radio wavelengths at one point, and the inevitable build to static blowout is distracting and unwelcome, which is too bad, since the different elements of "Com Touch" could conceivably have been split into two of the strongest songs on the album. The vocal cutting deployed sparsely near the end of the track in particular deserves to be showcased on its own song. "Tooth Moves”, then, sounds like the sum of the two tracks before it, a jazzy mid-tempo drum beat complimenting drinfting synth, until it’s all drowned out by wailing, ridiculous synth again, like a reset button in the middle of the track to explore a new sound. This structure is… grating… to say the least.
Then there is an interlude, "Skyward Bruise/Descent”. It is a successful interlude, getting us from point A to point B, in the style of the album. It is a bland and serviceable as this paragraph. Thankfully, it is followed by…
"Open", featuring Martina Toppley-Bird, who is a wonderful complement to Clark’s sound. Her voice has the same haunted, understated beauty that Clark seems to strive for, and even the heavy, chaotic e-harpsichord doesn’t distract from the chemistry Toppley-Bird has with Clark’s semi-enhanced vocals. The following song, "Secret", relies much more heavily on her vocals and is a fantastic showcase for her, crafting a solid trip-hop beat, a skill Clark utilizes once or twice per album, incorporating more vocal samples intwined with a grinding synth and -subtle strings. Clark fulfils a Gorillaz like role for parts of this song, fading into the background to provide a platform for another artist’s vocals.
Clark sings by himself, with himself, on "Ghosted". Where other tracks have finely tuned string compositions that feature heft and class, this song sounds like someone absently strumming at strings. There’s more interesting music in tuning an instrument than this, which is disappointing in the context of the album. Directly after it is "Black Stone", a gorgeous piano piece that leads into the album’s strongest tracks, The Pining suite, opening with the aptly named "The Pining Pt 1".
The Pining suite, followed by "Broken Kite Footage", close the album in a grandiose, cinematic way. "The Pining Pt. 1’s" meandering, loose guitar evoke a sunlit, tree-lined road with opening credits careening across them. Something more subdued and mysterious lies under the surface in a slowly growing horn/synth combination that crescendos into chaos, drowning out the rest of the track. "The Pining Pt. 2" has a similarly jaunty tone, but with different, driving purpose - Pt. 1 is a sightseeing tour, but in Pt. 2, we have purpose, trading heavily on 90’s techno and industrial nostalgia while still playing heavily cinematic. If Pt. 1 is the opening credits, Pt. 2 is Angelina Joile hacking into the Gibson. "The Pining Pt. 3" is the credit titles, resolution, and "Broken Kite Footage" is the reward for ardent viewers who wait through the entire long credit crawl. "Broken Kite Footage" is by far the most ambient track on the album, a single drifting idea for four minutes.
Clark’s aesthetic lends itself to multiple playthroughs, and "Iradelphic" is no different. An occasionally slow exploration of a vast, yet refined, aesthetic makes for one of Clark’s most interesting albums to date.
Allow me to present a simple yardstick to judge how awesome a song is. If it makes me want to dance to it while sober? Hot damn, you got yourself a winner. Which brings me seamlessly - seamlessly! - to Young Montana?, a.k.a. Jon Pritchard. Jon is from Coventry (Editor’s note - This is a town in England about mid-way between Manchester and London). Stateside readers may not be familiar with the phrase “sent to Coventry”, but it roughly means being ostracised. Because Coventry is not that exciting of a place. I would know: I lived in and around it for three years.
I’m not exaggerating here: Young Montana? is the best thing about Coventry.
But if you’re only going to have one good thing about you, it may as well be really, really, ridiculously good. Young Montana?’s debut album, “Limerence”, certainly delivers. I think every single song on it passes the David’s-sober-dancing test. “Sacré Cool” better than most. I even love the title - and it fits, because I have an obsessive, overwhelming need to listen to the album again. Seriously, this is an album that samples “Swan Lake” in its final track, and it feels understated.
It’s worth mentioning sampling, since a lot of the album consists of sliced and diced snippets from goodness knows where. Sampling gets a bad rep. Sometimes that’s deserved (Girl Talk, I’m looking at you. Right at you. Playing two tracks at once might be fun, but that is not composing.), but other times it really isn’t. In general, I’m fine with an artist taking a good hook and making something of it. Skip about 2:30 into Labi Siffre’s “I Got The”. Sound familiar? That’s my favourite sample.
Sometimes, though, sampling goes way beyond just taking a little clip and working it to death. Until now, my go-to artist on this front was The Avalanches. I’m not saying Young Montana? is better than The Avalanches, but he is right up there.
Okay, so you can expect sampling. What else? I’d be lying if I said the album was easy to pin down. I’ve been thinking for a while, and the best I’ve come up with is satanic chip-hop. Sample-laden, super-sliced, sub-heavy satanic chip-hop-cum-IDM. It’s like the love-child of Venetian Snares and Squarepusher and Wisp and Ratatat and Grandmaster Flash. It’s like musical bacon: delicious.
Anyway, I’m fawning. Don’t take it from me: listen to the album courtesy of Fact Magazine below, or download our hand-picked highlights. It is absolutely stellar.