With the upper echelons of the charts teeming with day-glo, hands-in-the-air synths of Avicii, Guetta, that now-defunct Swedish quartet and – gulp – Skrillex, you’d think that with the rest of the world arguing about the validity of the term EDM there’d be little more room for another perpetrator of big room keys and throbbing electronics. Luckily, Orlando Higginbottom is not your garden-variety club producer. As Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Higginbottom first piqued the interest of Radio 1′s dance elite with the gargantuan ‘Household Goods’, a record of startling, brazen enormity and notably juxtaposed softly-spoken vocal turns. Between his garish live show and his understated personality, Higginbottom makes for something of an enigmatic contradiction in terms, and on his debut Trouble, this makes for a scattered, distinctly synth-y affair with particularly mixed results.
When TEED first emerged in 2009 on Joe Goddard’s Greco-Roman imprint, there was an almost collective pause to take in the spectacle; the visibly shy and understated producer, adorned in feathered headdress and flanked by glitter cannons made such a gleeful noise that it was hard to discern whether it was the name, image or noise that made the biggest spectacle. What makes Orlando Higginbottom the most fascinating however, is how unlikely this spectacle seems. Trouble finds him at his gentle-voiced, nervous-toned best throughout, cooing poppy laments over fractal electronics that the likes of LCD Soundsystem would have been lucky to stumble across.
Orlando’s soft-spoken, anxious intonations bounce brilliantly against the waves of broken electronics and there’s a fearsome propensity for cooing pop-hooks on display throughout. The album is often so cut through with anxiety and longing that the apparently fairly lovelorn Higginbottom could almost be described as an electroclash Morrissey-lite ; lines like ”Now you’ve got me messed up/Please believe me” are mumbled and thrown away as standard practice. The vocal turns range from timely hooks – on ‘Garden’, or ‘Household Goods’, for example – to feeling entirely cursory –’You Need Me On My Own’ or ‘Panpipes’ – mainly dependent on the quality of Higginbottom’s writing. Where ‘Panpipes’ offers a taut, percussive, dancefloor workout, it doesn’t offer a vocal as essential as its backing.
There’s a palpable sense of experimentation at hand, a clear appreciation of the broad appeal and possibilities of electronic music; from the A-list-friendly clamour of ‘Trouble’ to flashes of underground influence on cuts like ‘Shimmer’; a Floating Points-alike arpeggio workout cut through with clattering UK funky drum beats. Higginbottom draws from all corners to make, on Trouble, a mix that is very much his own. There are ’90s hooks aplenty of the gleeful ‘Your Love’ and a conversely unique, foggy sound on the vapourous ‘Fair’, and all without losing the sense that you are listening to the musical ruminations of one, very distinct, artist. He may have won our attention with spectacle, but Trouble demonstrates Higginbottom as an artist capable of inimitably curious fusions on an LP that simultaneously manages to mesh exhilaration, anxiety, pounding electronics and delicate laments without losing identity or purpose.