William Orbit traditionally unleashes his albums in fits and spurts, and so it was a five-year wait between 2000’s seminal Pieces in a Modern Style and the follow-up Hello Waveforms. It finally appeared a decade ago this week, which seems a good excuse to go back and check it out again.
Orbit has always been a dab hand with slower, softer pieces, as he proves with the lovely portamento-driven Sea Green, which opens the album. The rest of the album might well end up being a touch livelier than this, but if the whole thing were in this mold, that would definitely be no bad thing. But while Sea Green could have easily fitted on one of his many Strange Cargo albums, second track Humming Chorus is a different matter. It’s still soft and gentle, but doesn’t quite have the same mood. In many ways this track owes more to the classical reinvention project that preceded this one.
For the most part, instrumentals are the order of the day here, as the fantastic Surfin proves. It was subsequently recreated in even softer fashion by Orbit’s long-term collaborator Laurie Mayer on her solo album Black Lining, but the Hello Waveforms version soars above, and is by far the best track on here. There’s just something about the soft and gentle synth work that really gets under your skin.
The softer, almost Indian-sounding You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers comes next, serving ultimately only to build up to the magnificent Spiral, featuring Sugababes on vocals, and proving that if nothing else, they are definitely extremely good at singing.
The second half of Hello Waveforms is, it’s fair to say, just a touch less remarkable, although you wouldn’t think so from the album’s centrepiece, the adorable Who Owns the Octopus. Maybe with so much high calibre material coming before, some of these later tracks just feel a little less special than they actually are, and Bubble Universe certainly fits nicely – but it also isn’t one that you’ll be humming for weeks after listening.
Other later moments are more striking, such as Fragmosia and the intensely lovely choral piece They Live in the Sky, but other songs such as Firebrand and Colours from Nowhere fit better into the “nice” category than the “excellent” one. Ultimately it’s better to view them as part of the wider soundscape of the album, rather than potential hit singles in their own right.
But Hello Waveforms is, for the most part, quite exceptional. Six years after his most successful work, William Orbit returned with something quite different, not straying too far from his roots, but at the same time remaining as inventive and adventurous as ever. In the end, you have to wonder whether this might be his best work to date.
You can still find Hello Waveforms at all major retailers, such as this one.