If you like your music subdued and beautiful, a new William Orbit album is always a particular treat, although they seem to be few and far between. This week in 2009, his most recent album My Oracle Lives Uptown was unleashed, initially as a download and then later as a CD with extra tracks.
After the near perfection of Hello Waveforms (2006), his first non-Strange Cargo album in nearly two decades, My Oracle Lives Uptown followed three years later, but unlike its predecessor suffers in places from padding and filler.
Orbit does have a particular signature sound, and this is apparent with Radioharp, full of billowing synth pads and almost breath-like melodies. It’s unremarkable in a way, but also sets the mood perfectly, leading into the brilliant second single Purdy.
What I think makes Purdy so special is its quite inventive warped piano sound. Aside from that, it’s a dark dance track which builds into something which might not have sounded entirely out of place in the early 1990s.
The best track on the album – perhaps one of the best of Orbit’s entire career actually – is Optical Illusions. You could still argue that there’s a little bit of formula involved – certainly it isn’t a million miles away in sound from 1993’s exceptional Water from a Vine Leaf with its spoken vocals and gentle electronics. Either way, it’s still utterly brilliant – when the wibbly wobbly synth thing first turns up a minute and a half in, you can’t stop your hairs from standing up on end. The remixes (available separately on the single) are utterly brilliant too. It’s only spoilt very slightly by an extremely abrupt ending on the album version.
Fast Bubble Universe is a return to William Orbit‘s more common laid back style, with a healthy dose of 1990s dance influence. Then White Night is a real surprise – apart from being another exceptional piece, it actually first appeared on Torch Song‘s long lost 1986 album Ecstasy. Since Orbit was one of the members of that group, this is in fact a cover of one of his own tracks. Now with much more contemporary backing and a slightly more processed vocal, it feels crisp, modern, and a whole lot less 80s.
The middle section of the album – Hydrajacked, title track My Oracle Lives Uptown, Spotlight Kid, and Neutron Star – is largely unexciting. Sometimes in a good way, as the extremely gentle, mellow music washes over you, and sometimes the tracks just aren’t quite as good as those at the beginning. There are echoes of the Strange Cargo project, particularly its first outing from 1987. There are a lot more billowing synth noises and the odd xylophone-like sound, and all in all it never stops being pleasant.
In general, the rest of the album is a lot more subdued though, after the energy of the first few tracks. There’s a cluster of more remarkable pieces with the vocal Treetop Club, the particularly pleasant Drift So Far, and the ultra-laid back Golden Country. Then finally, Brand New Bong, Little Skipper, Reverie of the Tapir and City Lights Reflection bring the album to a close with its final phase – diddly bongo sounds, gentle semi-acoustic moments, more wibbly wobbly sounds, and just generally a whole lot more everyday William Orbit.
In a way, My Oracle Lives Uptown feels like a bit of a career retrospective for Orbit, and a quarter of a century after he first turned up with Torch Song, that’s entirely forgiveable. It does generally lack the sheer overwhelming brilliance of some of his other works, but it also has the trio of Purdy, Optical Illusions, and White Night, which more than make up for any failings it may have. And a new William Orbit album is always something to be treasured.