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Orbital: Wonky (ACP) 

What do we talk about when we talk about dance? Or techno? Or rave, acid house or electronica?

Maybe it should be story, because something Wonky does beautifully is create narrative out of soundscape. This isn't the endless, sprawling dance album that your older cousin had. (You know, he was there when "rave" started.) The longest track, "Distractions," clocks in at just longer than seven minutes. The songs themselves are concise, turning from one set of sounds to the next in interesting ways, with the saturnine bleeping on "Where Is It Going?" giving way to trashcan-lid-rattling clatter and then disintegrating into ambience. Orbital has always been a band that asks you to listen actively, not trance out.

Two of the tracks here feature vocalists, and both are awfully fun. Zola Jesus spooks up "New France," and Lady Leshurr's turn on the title track is growling but playful. (If you're wondering who Leshurr is, her website assures us she's "the talk of the U.K.'s urban scene" who "can literally spit on anything." While that may be overstating the case, she's an engaging presence.)

I've always thought Orbital was a great group to try for people who think they don't like electronica, since Orbital values economy (in relation to their niche) and listener engagement. Electronica may be the chamber music of the new millennium (and what better image to turn on its ear—that classical "small room" becoming the musky hollow of the dance club?), and Orbital deserves to be thought of as important progenitors, as Haydns of squelch.

More by Sean Bottai

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