Songs from This Album
Album Reviews: Hello Waveforms by William OrbitTo most of the world, William Orbit will forever be known as the guy who produced the last great Madonna album, Ray of Light, but to fans of ambient electronica, he'll always be up there on the genre's Mount Rushmore alongside other pioneers like Moby, Aphex Twin, and Alex Paterson of The Orb. Orbit's Strange Cargo series remains essential listening for anyone who takes their music lying down; it's the bridge between Brian Eno's groundbreaking ambient work and the spacey, beat-driven early '90s electronica that came to be known as trip-hop. (It also, not incidentally, introduced the world to Beth Orton.)
Given this backdrop, it's hard to fault Hello Waveforms for being such a familiar-sounding, conservative album. Orbit had his experimental fun when he rendered synthesizer versions of classical compositions on his controversial Pieces in a Modern Style; if he now wants to revisit his ambient/trip-hop roots, 13 years after the last Strange Cargo album, who's to stop him? Orbit breathes playful life into his synths better than almost anyone, so let him have his fun.
And taken that way, as a project meant to be fun -- or even, dare I say it, pleasant -- Hello Waveforms is a very satisfying set of tracks. Orbit reteams with old mates from his Strange Cargo days, Laurie Mayer and Rico Conning, to produce some gorgeously atmospheric, playfully titled songs like "You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers" and "Who Owns the Octopus?", mixing south Asian drones, echoing guitars, dubby basslines and the usual detachment of synths to great effect. He even revisits his Pieces in a Modern Style days with an electronic rendition of Puccini's Madame Butterfly on "Humming Chorus" and teams up with U.K. pop princesses Sugababes for a convincing stab at soulful pop on "Spiral." There's very little to find fault with here, except for the fact that Orbit's production techniques remain time-capsuled back in about 1996. The only real surprises come on "Fragmosia" and "Firebrand," which employ live strings and a horn section, respectively -- but even here, Orbit incorporates the acoustic instrumentation so carefully into his trademark sound that you hardly notice the addition.
For anyone who's a fan of electronic music that seeks to soothe rather than challenge, Hello Waveforms is well worth getting to know. But if you're looking to get your mind blown -- well, there are plenty of disciples of Orbit's work (Boom Bip, Hint, Blockhead, to name just a few) who can do that for you. -- Andy Hermann
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