Back at the beginning of the year, I could have never predicted the events that have transpired over the past couple of weeks. All I knew back in January and February was that both The Orb and Orbital had new albums coming out sometime over the course of the next year and I was super excited about each one. Along with Moby and a couple other artists, the two groups were basically my introduction into electronic music and got me headed down the slippery slope from which I've never recovered. I loved early albums by both groups and would rank different releases by each of them (Orbus Terrarum and Insides respectively) within my top 50 albums of all time.
Now, though, I've heard both Cydonia and The Altogether and neither one has done much for me. In each case, I was super excited to hear the individual albums and stayed away from early reviews, trying to keep my mind as clear and untainted as possible for my listening enjoyment, but it just didn't come in the form that it used to. The strange thing is that with both groups, I even enjoyed their previous releases (Orblivion and Middle Of Nowhere respectively), but I'd heard the beginnings of a change. I figured that in each case, they were just working out some kinks, but maybe the kinks are here to stay.
Even having said everything above, The Altogether is not a horrible album by any means. The Hartnoll brothers still obviously know how to write a catchy tracks and the production on the release is flawless, but like The Orbs latest release, it simply seems like the group is trying to cater to the widest common denominator. Perhaps they saw that Moby hit it huge with Play release (an album that I really enjoyed upon release, but was subsequently ruined by its vast array of commercial uses) and wanted to follow suit, but instead of feeling novel and inventive as their past discs have, many tracks are simply cringeworthy, while a couple tracks are left trying to pick up the slack.
The album begins with "Tension," and although the skittering track is a fair amount of fun, the more aggro beat and use of a sample from the old rock track "Surfin' Bird" comes off more as novelty than as something the group would lead off the album with. From there, the group drops into the very nice little track "Funny Break (One Is Enough)" and encorporates vocals into things for the first of many times on the release. Like some of the past outings with Alison Goldfrapp (this one is with Naomi Bedford), the duo definitely have a knack for laying down beautiful female vocals over catchy beats.
From there, though, the group goes right back into complete sillyness with the sound-effects laden track of "Oi!" The thumping track sounds like a bad rehash of a Basement Jaxx track mixed with Orbital and for all its trying simply doesn't do much. The same goes with "Tootled," which samples the Tool track "Sober" and basically ends up being a hyperactive techno remix of the track. Just in case you hadn't been sufficiently thrown off by the group by the time you get near the end of the release, "Illuminate" will clear things up for you again. With a cheesy drum machine beat and vocals by David Gray (who seems to be a critical darling right now), the track is crafted from the floor up for maximum radio-play and wouldn't be out-of-place on an adult contemporary station.
Fortunatley, there are some tracks on the disc that are like the Orbital of old and give definite glimmers. "Doctor?" is a totally excellent, haunting version of the Dr. Who theme, while "Shadows" feels like the kooky, rumbling sequel to "The Box" without being derivative in any way. The album closes out with the epic-length, 11-minute barnstormer called "Meltdown" that finds the group again rumbling along with a rather abrasive beat (and some huge bass pulses that feel like they were pulled from a Metalheadz track). It's a good way to end the album and it washes away some of the more mundane tracks on the album. In the end, though, I'm disappointed.