Thursday, April 1, 2010

William Orbit - Hello Waveforms (Original TC Review)


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Sanctuary Records Group: Cat. # 06076-84772-2
Released February 2006

Track List:
1. Sea Green (6:23)
2. Humming Chorus (3:36)
3. Surfin (4:52)
4. You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (4:59)
5. Spiral (4:57)
6. Who Owns The Octopus (5:01)
7. Bubble Universe (4:04)
8. Fragamosia (6:32)
9. Firebrand (6:16)
10. They Live In The Sky (4:57)
11. Colours From Nowhere (5:59)



(2010 Update:
So that follow-up album never materialized until 2009. Yikes, does that ever date this review, huh? Ah, this one's kind of sloppy anyway, an early case of me struggling to find ways of talking track-by-track with songs that really didn't have much to talk about, yet steadfast in believing all album reviews should be a minimum 1000 words long. I'll admit there's some really hilarious grammar gaffs here. As for the album, it's still a very, erm, pleasant listen.)



IN BRIEF: How many different ways can you type ‘pleasant’?

You have to hand it to older Orbit fans. Through his Madonna collaborations, his classical musings, and general seclusion since, they have patiently waited for a new full length of original material under his own name. It’s been quite some time since the last Strange Cargo was released, and the landscape of electronic music has seen some radical changes (or remained stagnent in some circles, but that’s another debate). With Hello Waveforms, fans finally have their new material. The burning question then, is whether this release lives up to the longing expectations.

Well, I’m not the guy to answer that. Aside from the obvious hits, I never gave much notice to Orbit’s older work. Probably like many, Ray Of Light and Pieces In A Modern Style was where I really exposed myself to his production. There’s nothing wrong with that either, as my perspective of this release isn’t weighed down by past accomplishments. As such, Hello Waveforms has the ‘blessing’ of being judged by the music it contains. Lucky guy, that Orbit.

First off, let me mention the booklet that comes with this album. This is, without a doubt, one of the glossiest booklets I’ve ever seen. Super slick and shiny, it just feels wrong to even muss it up with my breath, much less hold it in my greasy, grimy fingers. It’s the kind of booklet that makes it worth actually buying the release, just to show it off. Oh, I guess the additional artwork of the ‘Waveform Girls’, as Orbit calls them on his website (which includes some nifty videos of this artwork in motion) is nice to look at as well. Anyhow, let’s get into some actual music, shall we?

As we dive into Sea Green, it is immediately apparent Orbit still hasn’t changed his studio sounds much. Some’ll probably complain about him not moving with the times, but I don’t find it to be a big deal. Even if some of the synths he uses are a bit dated, they are still unmistakingly his alone. No one has managed to emulate Orbit’s sound and it makes his work all that more unique, effectively shielding him from sounding too dated.

Sea Green itself is quite warm and inviting. Several little benign melodies weave about on synths, pianos, and acoustic guitars, forming a calming bit of music that doesn’t really settle into any definite structure. Unlike a great deal of songs that wander about, Sea Green doesn’t fall apart at the seams as the melodies that come and go are quite catchy. There’s some muted rhythm as well, but it merely serves the melodies in crafting something of a chipper atmosphere.

With Humming Chorus, we see Orbit still not quite having gotten the classical bug out, as this song is from the Madame Butterfly opera. Strictly bleepy synths, strings, and other oddball sounds, the pleasant atmosphere to be had in this track is quite calming. I can’t help but feel I’m lounging about in some tranquil Victorian-era fairground as it plays.

An ethereal slide guitar emerges from the start of Surfin, melting into a tranquil bit of early evening tropical bliss. Like Sea Green, this track is quite content to meander about, allowing simple pleasant melodies to weave in and out. Similarily, You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers follows this same form. Despite bubbly bass and acoustic noodlings providing an eerier setting, Saucers is still quite calming to listen to. Even a rather psychedelic outro to the track doesn’t distort the calming music.

After this run of peaceful ambience, we move into the lead single, Spiral. With guest vocals by UK urban girl act Sugababes, this song wouldn’t sound out of place in a typical young woman’s clothing store. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Spiral ruins the flow of Waveforms - it’s actually quite the needed divergence after four tracks doing relatively the same thing. However, Spiral isn’t really a standout example of your typical modern R&B sound, and feels odd being on an album like this.

Who Own The Octopus marks the midway point of Waveforms, and also marks the best bit of music yet - molasses electro rhythms, synthy guitar musings, and nice sweeping synths create quite the engaging bit of chill. Towards the end though, we are treated to a stirring climax of fuzzed-out guitars and synthy harpsicord. Even if Octopus is overall mellow, it is by far the most riveting track.

From here, Waveforms begins a gentle slide to take us out. Bubble Universe is an interesting sonic experiment with distorted vocals and pixie-ish charm. While an intriguing listen, there really isn’t much to latch onto here between the various sounds weaving about.

Fragamosia features a violin, viola, and cello played in parallel with dubby electronics. It starts out promising, as the musical ideas featured in the beginning show promise [g’uh -2010 Syk]. However, much like most of the music we’ve heard thus far, Orbit instead seems content to allow things to merely noodle about. The only trouble with Fragamosia’s case is the melodies aren’t as engaging as those in the first half of Waveforms, and the song doesn’t stand out as a result.

Firebrand seems to share the same troubles as Fragamosia. Despite the use of an assortment of woodwinds and brass instruments, this track is far too much noodle without enough substance in the weaving melodies. This makes it a pleasant bit of background music but not much else.

We get some vocals with The Live In The Sky, but aside from plenty of oohs and aahs in the beginning, they aren’t as prominent as the ones in Spiral. Instead, this track, like so much else on the latter half of Waveforms, is a pleasant bit of music but hardly engaging.

Closing out the album is Colours From Nowhere, an eerie excursion into ambience that seems to borrow some Orbit-ish melodic ideas that have been sprinkled throughout Waveforms. All of this is linked together with pretty cool sounding synth pads. It’s about the mellowest track on this album, which is saying a lot considering just how mellow this whole CD has been.

And that’s probably the only real fault to be had on Waveforms. Aside from Octopus and perhaps Spiral, there isn’t really much that’ll leap out at you as it plays. Mind, the music is all very charming, and is perfectly suited for background ambience. The astute listener will also find a number of the brief melodies that come and go quite nice.

However, the overall atmosphere of Waveforms kind of leaves one wanting a little more than what we are given. Orbit does have plans to release another album later this year, so perhaps this one is merely the appetizer before the main course. Still, if you are in the market for some mellow music, this album will suit you fine.


Score: 6/10

ACE TRACKS:
Who Owns The Octopus


Written by Sykonee. Originally written 2006 for TranceCritic.com. © All rights reserved.

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