Starkey's early work was some of the brightest in the glorious explosion of UK dubstep circa 2007. Funny that, considering his home base isn't London, but Philadelphia. One of the US's most visible adopters of dubstep pre-Skrillex, since the days of Ephemeral Exhibits, P.J. Geissinger has presented a happy medium between the American dance underground and the UK. Since moving from Planet Mu to Civil Music, that US-UK bridge has become literal as his music begins to absorb more influence from his homeland. And as "EDM"—loud, obnoxious, no-holds-barred—has taken hold of his home country, so it has Geissinger's music. Intentionally or not, third album Orbits meshes past orchestral tendencies with the rabble-rousing of 2012's American dance music landscape, coming out every bit as conflicted as that sounds.
Orbits continues full-bore with the science fiction themes that have always been a part of Starkey's music. An epic and pristine intro bends over into hip-hop histrionics, all slamming subs and glittering arpeggios; it's Starkey at his most punishing but also most dazzling. But then "Command" follows, with a nails-on-chalkboard synth lead blatantly off-key with the rest of the chest-beating track. Geissinger sounds like he's madly scribbling all over a finished canvas, indiscriminately trying to make it louder, more violent. Plaintive tracks are repeatedly interrupted by undulating melodies borrowed from moombahton: take the two-part "G V Star" suite which hums gently with his own contemplative vocals before falling into a seizure of haywire synths and bludgeoning midrange.
But for those scared away by the thrash of his recent music, Orbits also reinforces his keen sense of melody and sharpening sound design. "Thugs" is prime Starkey—icy blasts of synth shooting up like geysers between heavy pistons and soulful 8-bit squiggles. On the other hand, "Lzr" successfully manages to insert trap breakdowns into its pomp and circumstance, as sputtering orchestral hits battle the wheeling hi-hats. The album's gorgeous one-two-punch ending sequence of "Magnet" and "Distance Star" finally captures the sense of star-gazing that Gessinger's music has always clumsily hinted at. Here, he proves that dubstep can sound larger-than-life without resorting to masturbatory machismo.
However nice those moments might be, Orbits feels split down the middle between exercises in blunt aggression and more nuanced takes on his space opera style. Most of the time, Geissinger tramples over his own handiwork in an attempt to make his tracks more "danceable" or more "banging." His last album Ear Drums & Black Holes suffered from the same sort of split-personality, and while Orbits is a tighter record, its joints are still too weak to hold it all up.