Orbital: Orbital 20

Sloppy and superfluous -- a poor reflection on just how intricate and essential the band were and are.


Orbital 20

Label: Rhino
US Release Date: Import
UK Release Date: 2009-06-08

It shouldn't be so hard to assemble a good retrospective compilation. And yet, given just how many such collections flop onto shelves every year, it is striking how inessential most of them actually are. Hits comps have a dodgy reputation to begin with, so its worth pointing out the ones that get it right, hitting the near-impossible balance between an entry-level introduction to an artist or group's oeuvre while also touching on the depth of their catalog in a manner sufficient enough to give the disc(s) personality beyond merely just another faceless Essential set. Then there's the matter of the inevitable fanbait -- you know, the (usually) inessential stuff they tack on to entice the fans who already own, say, "Block Rockin' Beats" on at least five different discs into believing that they need to own the song on a sixth. Getting all of these factors just right is an unenviable task for any compiler, so it's no surprise that so many of them appear to have been constructed with all the skill of a drunken game of darts.

Thankfully, after listening to Orbital 20, I am happy to report that Orbital has a compilation worthy of their pedigree -- it's called Work, and it was released in 2002. Orbital 20, on the other hand, is sloppy and superfluous -- an especially damning condemnation given just how intricate and essential the band were and are. The former collection managed the neat trick of anthologizing an infamously long-winded group on a single CD through the inclusion of 7" edits and other crafty cuts -- a necessary evil, but one that worked remarkably well given the limitations. The shorter edits actually worked to the band's advantage in some instances, showing off their underrated skills as pop songwriters by giving some degree of focus and concision to a few tracks which could be, in the context of their original albums, forbiddingly magisterial in length and scope. Orbital 20 has two whole discs and somehow manages to be less thorough than the previous single disc.

Orbital are important -- it's a point I keep reiterating because it's true -- but the unwary listener who might find his or her first exposure to the band on these discs might be sorely vexed by the contents thereof. Don’t mistake me: the music is still fantastic. Orbital made history because they appeared in the midst of a scene that prided itself on being loud, fast, and gaudy -- late '80s acid house -- championing the values of intricacy, intellect, and subtlety. They were true heirs to Kraftwerk, but somehow managed to weld that group's august remove to a more immediate dance context. They were also one of the very first electronic music acts of the modern era to record satisfying LPs which were more than just a compilation of satisfying singles, and sure enough, their first five albums are all certified classics (six is dodgy, but seven picks it up again). So, it's not that the music on these discs is bad: quite the contrary. The music is much better than this piss-poor cash-in context.

At the risk of picking nits, did they really need to include two versions of "Impact (The Earth Is Burning)", totaling 24 minutes? Yeah, it's a great song, but far and away their biggest hit, "Halcyon+On+On", isn't even present -- only represented by a Tom Middleton remix. It's a good remix, to be sure, but this was a huge song, and probably the one song people unfamiliar with the group will have heard. Couldn't they have found room for, say, the epochal live version -- you know, the one that breaks into Belinda Carlisle? Or how about the superior, never reprinted original version, just "Halcyon"? They managed to dredge up "The Naked and the Dead" from the original Halcyon EP -- a good lost cut, to be sure, but about the last one I expected to find on a collection such as this.

Their later albums get short shrift. Sure, any collection like this will almost always favor a group's earlier material -- especially in the case of a group like Orbital, when their earliest material is so iconic. But honestly, I could have done without one or two tracks off their self-titled debut, maybe cut the live version of "Remind", in favor of a couple more choice cuts off The Altogether and their final self-titled album (commonly referred to as "The Blue Album"). It might have been nice to have the uncharacteristically rowdy, punk-sampling "Tension", or late highlight "You Lot". And how they managed to program two discs without some version of their fan-favorite cover of the Doctor Who theme is beyond me.

This second-guessing is beginning to get ridiculous, but hopefully you get my point. It's not merely that this is an imperfect compilation, but that it's seriously flawed to the point that the only real appeal for aficionados is in dissecting the poor sequencing -- assuming, that is, you've already stripped the handful of fanbait remixes for iTunes. For anyone new to Orbital, it's probably best just to start with their second self-titled album (commonly referred to as "II" or, "The Brown Album"): that's the one with "Halcyon+On+On", and a whole bunch of other good stuff as well. Work should serve well for anyone wanting a more concise introduction. But otherwise, steer clear of this train wreck.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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