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Albums of 2012 – 23. Orbital – ‘Wonky’

For better or for worse, club culture has definitely mutated since the 90s dance that Orbital helped pioneer. That’s why, at a time when British bands are reforming quicker than you can say ‘festival headline slot’, Wonky (the duo’s first album in eight years) feels necessary. Not for reasons you’d expect however; while most comeback records are an uphill fight to retain relevancy, Orbital’s is a triumphant return, never once feeling forced.

Beginning with more traditional-sounding tracks, Wonky establishes itself on good terms. However it’s in the middle section where the record truly flexes its muscle, flirting with subgenres in a way that’s constantly exciting. New France adds some experimentalism to the mix, featuring the operatic vocal prowess of Zola Jesus to great effect, marrying her goth-tinged theatrics to Orbital’s already dramatic progressions. Meanwhile, Distractions is gorgeously slick, and entirely deserving of its seven-minute length.

Possibly the most successful track of the album, Stringy Acid is pure acid house at its finest. Hearing it in a DJ set opening for New Order earlier this year found the track in the perfect environment – accessible to the modern club crowd yet still in reverence to one of the most exciting developments in 80s dance. The paradigm then instantly shifts to Beezledub’s deep throb,beating Skrillex-era dubstep at its own game. The duo even throw in an extra drum and bass drop at the climax for good measure, just in case you weren’t aware of the people really responsible for helping propel electronic music forward more than a decade ago.

With such variation in style, it’s all the more impressive that Wonky’s distinct tracks effortlessly segue into the next – a clear indication of Orbital’s uncompromising skill as DJs as well as musicians. Indeed, not only have they trumped their contemporaries, they’ve more importantly produced one of the strongest albums in their back-catalogue. Fast-paced but meticulously crafted, adept yet unassuming, Wonky is the sound of an act with nothing left to prove.

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