Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

When the Lights Go sees Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs making thrilling dance pop on his own terms

"When The Lights Go"

Release date: 09 September 2022
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs When The Lights Go Artwork
07 September 2022, 14:00 Written by Dave Russell

We need to talk about that name. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs. It’s clunky, it’s a mouthful, it’s highly uncool. But it would also be a mistake to assume that Orlando Higginbottom chose such a cartoonish name without a bit of thought.

In fact, the choice of name (something that’s “not trendy…it’s kind of friendly and strange and it doesn’t make sense,” in his words) is a good reflection of Higginbottom’s approach to his work: considered, often surprising, and entirely uninterested in categorisation. On When the Lights Go, his first album in a decade, Higginbottom has taken his time to allow the new record to form, and his patience has paid off – the result is simultaneously warmly introspective, richly textured and most importantly, highly danceable.

Higginbottom has been far from idle since his debut LP, Trouble: he’s a prolific remixer, live DJ, contributing song writer and collaborator – including his Grammy-nominated collaboration with Bonobo – and he now runs his own label, Nice Age. When the Lights Go, then, comes full circle back to a format that Higginbottom hasn’t worked with since Trouble. The time between albums has seen him up his game on all fronts: the ideas are more fully realised, the production is more luscious and the songwriting is more self-assured.

If we must talk in terms of genre, the starting point for the record is house-leaning dance music, but Higginbottom pushes at the edges of that definition in search of a broader spectrum of moods and emotions. He’s been vocal about his frustration at the often restrictive parameters of dance music – particularly the rigidity of four to the floor beats. Reaching beyond these limitations has proven to be fruitful creative territory – over the course of its run time, When the Lights Go subtly shifts its shape and form, from clubby euphoria to brooding introspection to soft-edged balladry; and while these emotional territories might feel disparate, it's impressively cohesive as a collection of songs.

That feeling of variety isn’t limited to the emotional quality of the songs. When the Lights Go is a feast for the ears, full of rich details and interlocking layers of rhythm. Higginbottom leans heavily into syncopated phrasing, going almost anywhere but four to the floor beats, and builds some incredibly catchy rhythmic hooks in the process – whether that’s the way his simple vocal melody sits against the densely percussive instrumental on “Forever” or the kicked-back neo-bossa nova of “Blue is the Colour.” Even “Sound and Rhythm” – perhaps the clubbiest track on the album – breaks up its driving beat with syncopated stabs, swirling synth keys and the odd cowbell. Higginbottom allows the beat to fall back, making way for the song’s only vocal part – the word “waiting,” repeated over and over again. It almost reads like a tongue-in-cheek nod to big room dance acts’ over-reliance on the anticipation of a big drop, and yet when the beat comes back in it’s still every bit as satisfying as you’d hope.

When the Lights Go is a long album, clocking in at just over an hour, but there are so many small details to appreciate along the way. Listening to the record top to bottom can feel a bit like staring out the window of a train as stunning scenery whips past your view. The title track is littered with delightful flourishes, some of which appear once and never return: a soft drum fill that’s set back in the mix so as not to disrupt the balance, a sparkling arpeggiator, a set of crystalline bells. Every listen reveals a new subtle detail; nothing ever fighting too much for attention.

In a recent interview with Music Tech, Higginbottom said that “it would be easier if I was just a house producer and I was just making one thing. But I don’t like being bored and I like being free.” When the Lights Go proves that there’s lots of fun to be had by painting outside the lines of what we think is expected of us.

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