“When I was a foetus, I was nostalgic for when I was sperm,” says Mike Sandison, one half of Boards of Canada, in a 1998 interview dug up by a recent FACT magazine feature. And here we have three wholly sentimental releases: one by throwback lad Lone, the other two from the legendary vanguard of Photek and Orbital, who’ve both been making music since I was, well…sperm.
Various Artists - Photek DJ-Kicks
Photek’s recent revival and accompanying adoption of a grand, cinematic sound is on full display in this DJ-Kicks submission. Here, the ex-junglist takes concerted stock of his newfound tastes in modern dubstep, its ambiguous ‘bass music’ variants and deep/tech house - basically anything but the austere drum’n’bass which so captivated listeners back in the ‘90s. In place is an aesthetic that is big, bold and clearly more accessible and human. But make no mistake; this is one forsaken, bereft being straggling his drunken way through the seedy alleyways of the city. Sombre, yes, but Photek’s smooth, consummate wielding of mix dynamics liberates it from certain wallowing, and creates an utter head-trip of a narrative. The selection features six exclusive tracks both self- and co-produced with the likes of Pinch, Boddika and Kuru: music with nothing on the ornate, polychromatic material of Photek’s past, but still technically impeccable and compositionally imposing at their very heart, as previously pointed out here.
Orbital – Wonky
Has it really been close to a decade since we last heard of Orbital? Aside from a greatest hits tour - and the appearance of ‘Halcyon’ on an SBS TV Mobile jingle - the Hartnoll Bros have pretty much laid low since the disaster that was Blue Album. Now they’re back and… Wonky?
Really? Title aside, Orbital’s most pop-oriented release ever kicks off on an inauspicious note with the passé, comeback wince of ‘One Big Moment’. A slew of ecstatic carnival anthems follow suit, assailing the ears with commercial gratification, and the wretchedness really sinks in with ‘Beelzebub’: an absurd reinterpretation of their classic ‘Satan’, now defiled into the kind of big room growling, wobbling brostep that Skrillex would have doled out on a timid day in Starbucks. Even the second-half shift into a breakbeat workout can’t salvage Orbital’s flagrant intent to cater to today’s ‘scene’ - and how they flounder to do so. But let us not bury the magic of their earlier efforts. Based on an old track uncovered while cleaning out their tapes, ‘Stringy Acid’ is a charmingly written, wondrous surge of Orbital at their most lustrous and powerfully stirring, circa 1991. It will have the middle-aged dancers jumping off their massage chairs, but whether the rest of Wonky allows a new generation to understand the true fuss about Orbital remains to be seen.
Lone - Galaxy Garden
For the majority of young producers making their mark right now, discovering and embracing the tropes of 80s/90s dance music profusion seems to constitute their rite of passage. Lone can probably lay claim to being part of the first wave to assimilate the neon veneers, pumped up BPMs and boisterous hooks of eras gone by; offering bright respite and rebellion against the post-Y2k culture of shadowy minimalism. He perseveres with the celebratory vibes on his latest full-length, unashamedly drawing from a proven bag of tricks to produce a doggedly faithful listening experience. Two collaborations with another romantic hat, Machinedrum, appear as largely reinforcing showcases of the keyed up, frenetic footwork he’s been conquering the world with.
Then there’s the pleasantly delightful ‘Lying in the Reeds’ with its PLUR chords yanked up and down their pitch range at the gleeful mercy of its creator.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album is gorged with ideas and a sound that is starting to render itself oddly tedious and lacklustre. Perhaps it’s just become difficult to ignore the niggling doubt of whether such nostalgia presents anything fresh and distinctive from the very records they pay homage to. Or perhaps basking in the sunshine for too long has simply resulted in over-baking instead. Whatever the case, I’ll have some darkness now, please...