William Orbit’s new album, Hello Waveforms, finds the influential electronic composer/producer very much returning to form. It also finds him returning to showcasing new music, which is something that seems to happen less and less as his career progresses. Orbit’s previous release, 2000′s Pieces In A Modern Style, presented his reinterpretations of favored classical music selections. The album was very well received for what is was, but also disappointing for what it was not, for it was not a truly new William Orbit record.
To find the last true releases of all-original material, you must go all the way back to 1995. This was a great year for Orbit fans because it saw the release of two albums. The first was the (so far) final in his Strange Cargo series, Hinterland, and arguably the strongest of the set. The other was the reunion album for his 80s group Torch Song, with Toward The Unknown Region. So the perspective is that, all things considered, we’ve been waiting over a decade for William to release another true artist record. Was it worth the wait? Well, a decade is a pretty long time, so that’s not really a reasonable question … But Hello Waveforms picks up admirably where his previous work left off.
To enjoy William Orbit is to appreciate the fact that he has a very specific style and sound. When you listen through the Strange Cargo releases, Pieces, (specifically) the last Torch Song, and his production work for the likes of Madonna and U2, there is a very clear and consistent edge that runs through them. This could be good or bad depending on how you approach it. There has been a little criticism that his work centers on this “sameness” of his programming and sound palette. When all judged together, the newcomer could be forgiven for not being able to fully place their progression on a time line. And if you feel this way, then Hello Waveforms will probably not be sufficiently daring enough to alter your opinion.
However, the other side of the argument is that consistency in one area frees you up to concentrate on other areas. Orbit’s greatest strengths have always been his composing and arranging. An original voice need not always be consumed with making sure a keyboard collection is keeping pace with the mainstream pop world. Because although that’s one way to differentiate yourself, it may not be the best way. After all, flitting between styles while chasing the radio trend du jour is a pretty futile way of working. This new record finds a seasoned artist comfortable in his own skin, free to simply create beautiful music for the sake of art.
The opener “Sea Green” is a lush shimmering track that almost becomes a manifesto for the rest of the album. Orbit’s trademark sounds of glacial pads and echoing synth leads are complemented by guitar and a light drum track. The music seems to conjure some of the cinematography from the movie The Beach (for which Orbit also produced a track). “Humming Chorus” is the next track, and being a reinterpretation of music from Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, it’s an obvious nod to Orbit’s previous album, Pieces In A Modern Style. The style changes a bit on the track “Spiral,” as it’s one of only two full vocal tracks on the record. Featuring vocals by Sugababes and Kenna, the song has a lazy downtempo groove that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Zero 7 album.
“Who Owns The Octopus?” is a heartbreaking track touching on the themes of… OK, so maybe his song titles aren’t meant to shed too much light on things. But it, as well as a few other tracks, does feature some background vocal texture from his former Torch Song band mate Laurie Mayer. And it lives where much of the record seems to find its balance, which is somewhere between laid-back electronic pop and progressive ambient soundtracks. “They Live In The Sky” is a breezy and gentle summer evening tune, featuring stacked female vocals and a lightly bouncing rhythm track. The album closes with the somewhat unfulfilling, in that it feels like it’s still wanting to go somewhere before our journey is done, “Colours From Nowhere.” It’s a slow reprise that deconstructs itself into vapor, until you’re simply left with the instinctive option of starting the journey all over again.
After more than two decades of making music, it’s refreshing to see that William Orbit is consumed with better things than chasing fads that he knows will not last. Hello Waveforms is a strong return to what has made him so influential throughout the years: damn good music.
For more information on the music of William Orbit, you can visit his official website which is an amazingly deep storehouse of music and information from throughout his career.