X Ambassadors are a trio you may or may not have heard of BUT you will have heard one of their songs/collabs whether you know it or not. If you are unaware of X Ambassadors you may recognise some of their huge singles ‘Renegades’ or ‘Unsteady’ which saw the band gain global success and multi-platinum sales, they’ve also been involved in some big collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa, Imagine Dragons and Ty Dolla $ign on the Suicide Squad Soundtrack, Machine Gun Kelly & Bebe Rexha on the track ‘Home’ as well as with Tom Morello, Eminem, Jamie N Commons and many others. They were also involved in the song-writing and producing of the Game Of Thrones inspired soundtrack ‘For The Thrones’ and Lizzo’s debut album... that’s an impressive run!
Orion is the follow up to the trio’s debut release VHS and was produced by Ricky Reed (Twenty One Pilots) with some interesting indie, pop, hip-hop sounds. There is a fear with second albums that they might not quite live up to the first album and that worry is present here.
Orion lacks the continuity and cohesiveness of first record VHS and rather feels like a collection of singles. That said, the diversity and range of the bands sound is still present. Opener “Hey Child” doesn’t feel like a huge departure from the bands sound on their previous record. It also doesn’t feel like an extension or outreach in terms of their experimentation and progression. Rather what is demonstrated in this opener is a band that have nailed down what their sound is, what they are good at and what their fans want and have produced a track that ticks all of those boxes.
It is great to see more features crop up and especially with other up and coming artists. “Confidence” featuring K.Flay is a low key track that is followed by “Quicksand” both of which hold an obvious pop focus at their core. This track would stand on its own two feet in the UK top 40 and respective charts all over the world and further highlights the bands direction and how established they have made themselves here.
“Boom” is an unrelenting and undeniably catchy 2 minutes and 45 seconds of music. If your feet aren’t tapping at this irresistible bass line or your head isn’t bobbing along to the simplistic riff then you need to see a doctor because it’s as infectious as any pop song can be. It is that song you wake up humming and figure out what it is that is stuck in your head later on in the afternoon, absolute banger.
“Rule” falls a little flat especially after the impact of “Boom”. Following this is “History” which does offer something that the band hasn’t showcased in their recorded back-catalogue to date. This wholly acoustic ballad pulls those heartstrings at the right moment on this album. It provides a genuinely beautiful moment that catches the listeners attention due to it’s stark difference to the previous 5 songs thus far and also highlights the vocal excellency of Sam Harris.
“Wasteland” is an instant singalong and somehow already feels like an anthem on a first listen. It is probably the most removed from the bands general sound musically and instead showcases a style that could be likened more to U2. The song relies predominantly on vocal hooks and progressions to make a clear differentiation between the chorus and verse but it works really well.
Other highlights come in the form of “Shadows” which is pop-centric and full of incredible vocal melodies and “Hold You Down” which can be categorically labelled as an X Ambassadors style of song start to finish. This should not be confused as a dig because it provides an instant relate-ability for fans and listeners of the bands previous material as well as being that song you would show your mate you are trying to get into the trio.
Ending with “Happy Home” the album almost feels like it is cut too short. The song itself harks back to a sound that feels largely influenced by early Maroon 5 but translates well due to the vocal dexterity and diversity in Harris’ voice. This accompaniment of style and these vocals is a tried and tested formula that just works.
Overall Orion holds less stand out songs than VHS did. Where VHS felt like a story told through an excellently made album the focus here is obvious which is to cut out the concept and craft singles. In terms of the sound this is undeniably X Ambassadors but does also push boundaries in certain areas of their style. There almost feels like there are less big moments and experimentation and that the focus was 3 minute pop bangers... but that is okay! This is a well-crafted album by a trio that have showcased an incredible amount of talent thus far but there is still a feeling that there may be bigger things to come!