At one point, the Chemical Brothers were the path setters in the then-burgeoning electronica scene of the mid-90's, mentioned in the same breath as the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, the Crystal Method, and the Propellerheads. They were known for pioneering the sample-heavy "Big Beat" movement that put electronic music on the charts, even in America - it was pounding, rhythmic, and loud, with a heavy dose of electric guitar and a reliable build-it-up and break-it-down arrangement that appealed to rock fans. This was supposed to be the next big thing in pop music after grunge, and it briefly made a lot of people famous. But by the end of the decade it became clear that Big Beat was not going to stay on the top of the charts, as the quality of new electronic releases was decreasing and the buying public got sick of the sound. The Chems were observant enough to abandon the sound right before things crashed, and wound up becoming the only one of the aforementioned artists to score a major hit in the new decade.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Chems were more versatile than most gave them credit for - they were always DJs first, always in tune with current trends and equipped with a great feel for the dance floor. The duo (Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons) originated as the Dust Brothers, a name which they stole from the cover of Paul's Boutique, and started releasing singles and EPs as early as 1992. Once DJs started to play them and more famous names started to pay attention, they soon attracted the attention of the REAL Dust Brothers who promptly sued - they quickly changed their name to the Chemical Brothers, and the rest was history. Their debut LP Exit Planet Dust was mostly a comp of their Dust Brothers material, but still managed to inspire a whole generation of copycats, which set up the "bigger, badder, and louder" follow-up Dig Your Own Hole to briefly become the biggest album ever, even snagging a Grammy in the process (they'd win a few more later in their career). Soon the Chemicals became one of the most in-demand remix units around, collaborating with a number of high-profile artists. Thus it initially shook the music press to find that the Chems would soon tone down the brutality in favor of more traditional and psychedelic electronica, and soon MTV and the magazines that originally championed Big Beat were disowning it with equal fervor.
The Chemical Brothers never quite went away though, and not only remained huge in the clubs, but somehow scored a huge crossover hit ("Galvanize") six years after the press called them "washed up". They remain huge mostly on the virtue of continuing to release high-quality material long after their peers had stopped (as they were expected to pretty much follow the crash-n-burn career trajectory of Fatboy Slim) as well as a carefully chosen and somewhat controversial array of guest vocalists that has resulted some in of their biggest singles.
Exit Planet Dust (1995)
Like most electronic acts in the 90's, the debut album is more or less a collection of singles, comprising about half the tracks here, some of which date back to 1992. At this point, the Chems are not really composers, instead building tracks through sampling and layering. This is often described as the first Big Beat record, and even though it doesn't really epitomize the genre, it does represent it quite well. It's loud, with powerful, busy drum loops, hard hitting bass hits, and a heavy dose of rock, even though actual guitars only really show up on three of the tracks. That's at least what the first half is like - they announce their coming with "Leave Home", which uses funk guitar, a running bassline, and crashing drums, and from there it's off to the races. "In Dust We Trust" is a real stormer, sounding like a hard hitting live funk jam, constantly building itself up with four or five different super-catchy hooks until dissolving. Nothing's quite as exciting or hooky as those two, but the Brothers are fairly versatile and deliver the goods - the goofy "Chemical Beats" uses a two-step drumbeat and a wonky acid line to create a ridiculously addictive track, and "Life is Sweet" is a straight up electro-rock tune with a guest vocal from Tim Burgess (Charlatans) and an exciting, guitar-flinging chorus that's one of the best moments on the album. It's not as if they can do no wrong - their first single "Song to the Siren" is featured here in a live version that doesn't have the power or intensity of the single edits I've heard, and "Life is Sweet" does needlessly meander for a couple minutes too long. But they do balance things well - they don't just bash you over the head with beats, instead taking care to ensure that every track has a good hook (or three) and some semblance of melody, and three of the tracks on the second half are slow burners. What's more, they're good - "Chico's Groove" and "One Too Many Mornings" are terrific, spacey and soulful grooves (particularly the latter) that complement each other well, and closing track "Alive Alone" is actually a song (!) with a great vocal from Beth Orton. I do have to give an extra shout to "One Too Many Mornings", which is one of their best tracks that never was released as a single or put on a comp - it's chilling and beautiful in a way that you wouldn't think these guys would be capable of. It's not as 'album oriented' as their later releases, but track for track this stacks up quite well, and it wisely avoids any of the real filler or super extended compositions that tanked more than a few debuts in this genre.
Loops of Fury EP (1996)
A solid EP that's recommended to those who enjoyed the group's first two albums. There are only four tracks so I might as well name them all; there's the title track, the breakbeat-based "(The Best Part of) Breaking Up", an early, extended take on "Get Up on it Like This", and a Dave Clarke remix of "Chemical Beats". Let's go through them: the title track is a Big Beat-style thriller similar to "Leave Home" with a heavily distorted guitar line and thumping bass, and easily could have made one of the albums, while "Breaking Up" is more of a DJ track, piecing together a bunch of modified breakbeats. It's kind of like something Bill Laswell might come out with if he were an electro DJ, and it sounds quite good despite no having real hook (it's in the same vein as "Morning Lemon", which is a little easier to find). The extended "Get Up on it Like This" is worth hearing, although it's not terribly different from the LP version (which is basically the last 3 minutes of this one). As for the remix, it begins by emphasizing the original's two-step percussion before turning into a full-on rave-up, and it works pretty well, rearranging the original without losing any of its catchiness. This won't exactly be a revelation, but it's a decent pickup.
Dig Your Own Hole (1997)
Re-listening to this, it's pretty clear why everyone thought that electronic music and Big Beat were going to rule the world - the Brothers showed that you could successfully merge electro and rock n' roll, and in the process created a type of music that nobody had heard before. The first three tracks here ("Block Rockin' Beats", "Dig Your Own Hole", "Electrobank") are all in a similar vein - massive riffs and thumping beats, all carefully constructed and organized - they're always building and don't stay in any place for too long, despite all the repetition. They're also earmarked with a bunch of mid-90's touches, like nuclear explosions, sirens, and loud drum fills. This sounds like a recipe for a headache, and you'd be right, but there's something awfully appealing about music this brutal - they were still a dance group at their core, but they did rock as hard as Zep, and you'd think Trent Reznor would have killed for this kind of sound. The centerpiece of the album would have to be "Setting Sun", which features Noel Gallagher on vocals and may be the loudest, least subtle song I've ever heard - it's filled with sirens, buzzers, crashing drums, and a twisted guitar riff that resembles a chainsaw buzz. Certainly, this is something that could only have been thought a good idea in the 90's.
The second half is a bit more conventional - tracks 6-8 essentially form one long electronic jam track that ends with their take on stadium house, complete with a guitar solo ("Get Up on it Like This"). It's a lot less cluttered, but doesn't exactly give up the frantic vibes of the first half. They don't really slow things down until near the end, with a great jazzy, bass-led track that can only really be classified as "space groove" ("Lost in the K-Hole"), and a straight-up guitar ballad featuring Beth Orton again ("Where Do I Begin?") that's totally out of character with the rest of the album. Alas, they cannot help themselves from eventually turning it into a noisy mess, building it into a ridiculous crescendo with a huge drum sound and grating vacuum cleaner noises. But they save the best for last - "The Private Psychedelic Reel" is a slowly building and tripped out piece based on a hypnotic sitar phrase repeated into eternity. It spares no expense - it builds up so much tension that it sounds like music for the rapture (similar to King Crimson's "Starless"), but in raga form, with the only release coming with a menacing and achingly pretty flute melody (courtesy of Mercury Rev). It’s the most epic and intense moment on an album stuffed with epic and intense moments, and would probably make for a truly terrifying LSD trip. More importantly, it’s really without an equal in the realm of electronic music. Not to spoil the story, but you may know by now that Big Beat never really did take off after this album. Does it hold up, some 15 years later? Well, yes and no, but the idea of noisy electronic music isn't something that's exactly gone away, even if all the real instruments have. This type of music doesn't typically have much replay value, but this record is so dense and full of neat asides that it still sounds good today. But you do find yourself wishing they'd just let up on the irritating button a little more often. Either way, this is something of an electronic landmark, headaches and all.
I remember buying this as an impressionable 12-year old, back when you could actually find Chemical Brothers singles at your neighborhood record store. The thing I found funny about this one is that it contains a Dust Brothers remix of the title track, even though they had just tried to sue them a couple years back! It's short and jumps all over the place, but it's pretty fun, and kind of reminiscent of the stuff they did on Odelay. The other tracks include the lengthy Electronic Battle Weapon version of "Don't Stop the Rock", the horrible rap "Not Another Drugstore" (though the Chems' backing is pretty good), and "These Beats are Made for Breakin'", a short cut-up tune based on a small section of "Morning Lemon" (which itself was basically made for these kind of remixes).
Brothers Gonna Work It Out (1998)
Not a studio album, but I can rate this anyway - it's a DJ mix album, essentially a nonstop, 69-minute mix of some of the Chems' favorite tracks, some rare B-side material ("Not Another Drugstore", the Micronauts' mix of "Block Rockin' Beats" that is almost nothing like the original, and "Morning Lemon", which of course works great in this format), and a few of their great remixes (their remix of Spiritualized’s "I Think I'm in Love", which closes this out, is an absolute show-stopper). It's formatted somewhat like a live show - it starts slow (with Willie Hutch's "Brothers Gonna Work It Out") but quickly gains steam and almost never drops the beat until its stunning climax. Indeed, this is the kind of DJ work that the Brothers originally cut their teeth on, so I'm not surprised that it's this good. There isn't really a dull spot here, and two of the tracks (out of five, which span 23 tunes) are brilliant - the second track is a brilliant mash-up of hard hitting disco riffing, and the fifth and final track is framed like a "Supper's Ready"-type progressive epic, going through several intense movements before reaching a stunning climax. As good as this is, fans should be warned that this is first and foremost a DJ mix album (it was actually my first purchase of the group because I didn't know any better), so you shouldn't expect anything like "Electrobank" or "Setting Sun" on here (though the remix of "Block Rockin' Beats" is pretty brutal, and the Bros. in general do not shy away from ear-destroying noise - check out the beginning of the fourth track for an example), and this really can't be measured up against any of their other albums (though it's basically as enjoyable as anything else they've done). Among other DJ mix albums, however, this fares quite well - it's well thought out and holds up to repeat listenings, keeping the train rolling without relying too heavily on superfluous and obnoxious sampling the way some other DJs are fond of doing. Worth tracking down.
This caused some real controversy when it was released, as the Brothers had all but abandoned the Big Beat genre in a time in which it was still commercially viable. In retrospect this was really a good career move - Big Beat didn't even survive the turn of the millennium, and once-huge acts like Fatboy Slim and the Prodigy would never have another big seller. But in 1999, most of the critics wanted more block rockin' beats so badly that they practically threw a fit when they didn't get them - they never noticed that what resulted was pretty damn good. I guess the best description would be "electronic psychedelia", as there's a clear 60's influence here, and once you start taking the album apart, you'll notice a bunch of unidentifiable and distored, swirling sounds that may have at one point come from a real instrument. It's hard to miss the connection to stuff like "Tomorrow Never Knows", and indeed, you can’t overlook the fact that the first single released in the US was practically a cover of the Beatles' classic tune ("Let Forever Be", starring Noel Gallagher again). But they do it well; it's melodic and doesn't lose focus despite using a busy arrangement and a large assortment of effects. The rest of the album is no different, as stripped to their core, most of these tunes are not very complex. But they're so carefully planned and arranged that it's hard to get bored, and they are built for repeat listens. Even the simpler tracks grow on you - the simple bubblegum Europop clone (and first UK single) "Hey Boy Hey Girl" is infectious and carefully composed, even if it was hardly meant to be more than dance floor fodder. The line "superstar DJ's...here we go!" cracks me up every time. The real selling point is this - out of the eleven tracks here, no two sound alike, and there's not a bad banana in the bunch. They do pop, they do ethnic, they do a few pulverizing beats ("Under the Influence", which begs to be heard on a bass-heavy system) and even a lullaby ("Dream On").
The major point of interest when this was released was the array of guest vocalists, not the last time they'd do this (for better or worse). Getting Bernard Sumner to helm a track was an inspired stroke, and the result ("Out Of Control") allows him as much room as he needs to make it his own. It focuses on a pulsating and forceful groove and a number of psychedelic effects, stopping only for an unexpected guitar solo (!). Elsewhere, there's Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star, delivering a beautiful, breathless vocal on "Asleep from Day", a cute and romantic tune with some rather left-field jungle beats. I can see why they didn’t go with Beth Orton for this one – there’s no tinge of regret or sadness in this one, but rather a sense of wonder, and I'm not sure Orton could have pulled it off. The other guest vocalist is Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev) who does the lullaby, which almost sounds like the Brothers remixing a simple acoustic guitar and piano song that Donahue wrote himself. Although these are the tracks that got the most attention, the rest of the material is no slouch either - the title track is densely arranged and meditative, and it's one of my favorite tracks here, sounding almost like an Indian raga. And the centerpiece, "The Sunshine Underground", is a real epic - it’s exotic and hypnotic sound is similar to "The Private Psychedelic Reel", but the vibe is completely opposite, blissful rather than menacing. It’s easy to say that the harshness has been completely toned down on this album, but the reality is that the tunes don’t really call for it, and they can still be powerful when they need to (in particular, the first three tracks are pretty heavy). It’s also easy to say that the Chems stopped being trailblazers with this album, an accusation that led most of the critics to turn against them; but it’s still got the “retro, with a modern touch” feel that they’ve always had, and in the end you won’t find too many electronic albums that sound like this one. And that’s impressive, considering electronic music hit a wall at the end of the decade. Don’t run.
Come With Us (2002)
The problem with a new Chemical Brothers album in 2002 is that electronic music wasn’t selling and had nowhere to go - just look at the list of once-big acts that were in the process of fizzling out: Moby, Orbital, Fatboy Slim, Leftfield, Fluke, The Prodigy, Aphex Twin, The Orb, FSOL, the Crystal Method - all started to lack inspiration, and many of them just ceased to exist entirely. Even the alternative electronic genres were dying out - just how many trance compilations have you seen lately? I was hesitant to pick this one up despite really liking all their previous albums. And while, yes, it turned out to be their weakest to date, in the dismal electronic landscape of the early 00’s, it’s a blessing that Come With Us is not that much worse than the previous three. If Fatboy Slim released an album like this, I’d be astonished with how much the guy’s learned. For the Chems, however, it’s surprisingly complacent, as there’s nothing particularly new here. But it’s still a tight dance record - the leadoff title track is as bombastic and funky as anything they’ve ever done, with an epic, nearly orchestral feel to it (the sci-fi voiceover doesn’t hurt either). From there, it’s mostly a mishmash of dance grooves, from Chic-like cut-n-scratch (the addictive “Galaxy Bounce”), to bouncy, Latin-influenced burners (“Hoops”), to in-your-face funk slapping (“Denmark”). Most notable are the relentless jungle beats of “It Began in Afrika”, a worthy single that combines tribal drums with hardcore acid, which unsurprisingly was written specifically for DJs to play in nightclubs (as was much of this album, I suspect). The other single was the tripped out “Star Guitar”, which emphasizes their Beatlemania hippie vibe, with one weird "wall-of-synths" effect that sounds like a hundred instruments smashed into one.
The problem – besides “Denmark” (which is fun, but forgettable, and doesn’t have the attention to detail that the Chems are known for), all the tracks mentioned above are on the first half. The second half isn’t quite lethargic, but most of it doesn’t resonate like previous albums did – the obligatory Beth Orton ballad (“The State We’re In”) seems made up on the spot, and its sudden turn into an upbeat dance rhythm is a lot more predictable. And there’s “My Elastic Eye”, which sounds like X-Files incidental music until it turns into an obnoxious buzz drone. They do cobble it together in the end – “Pioneer Skies” is a short, trippy, and conceptual piece that recalls “The Sunshine Underground” on a small scale. And “The Test”, with Richard Ashcroft (The Verve), is a worthy follow-up to “Life is Sweet” – it’s more funk instead of rock, but there’s another euphoric chorus, a decent vocal spot, and it gives you a few more minutes than you actually needed. So they got most of it right. If you liked the previous three, you'll do fine with this.
Singles 93-03 (2003)
By now, many of the electronic artists on the scene had come out with anthologies or greatest hits collections, so this arrived right on cue. They handle the compilation dilemma well – the package doesn’t include all their best stuff, but all the essential tracks are there, and there are two new songs (“Get Yourself High” with K-os is a fun hip-hop track with an amazing kung-fu video, and “The Golden Path” is kind of a dippy tune with Wayne Coyne telling a predictably incomprehensible narrative), plus an entire bonus disc of rarities. It’s a good place to get B-sides like the cut-up DJ track “Morning Lemon” and the EP-only “Loops of Fury” all at once (both essential) – the only notable omission is “Prescription Beats”. There’s also an eerily gorgeous space-groove that totally recalls “Lost in the K-Hole” (“If You Kling to Me, I’ll Klong To You”), that didn’t fit on Exit Planet Dust, along with other strange rarities such as “Otter Rock”. Of course, there's the obligatory alternate mixes (“Under the Influence”, “Galaxy Bounce”), live tracks (“Electrobank”, mashup “Piku Playground”), and a remix (“Delik”, a “Life is Sweet” mix which sounds almost nothing like its source material). I don’t know if this is a particularly great kickoff point for those new to the group – the first three albums in full all have so much to offer – but existing fans will definitely want the bonus disc.
Push the Button (2005)
Looking over the tracklisting, it's clear that the Chems have switched things up a bit, and probably for the worse - more than half of these tracks have guest vocalists, including a couple of rappers (Q-Tip and Anwar Superstar). I guess it worked for "Get Yourself High". Here's the good news - the Q-Tip track rules ("Galvanize"), with an epic bass bump and great lyrics - it put the Bros. back on the charts, even in America, and it still gets played at NBA games to this day. But the other one doesn't fare so well, full of clumsy political whining and dead hooks ("Cuz I'm a soldier! All my soldiers march with me! Stand UP!"), and ranks as the worst track the Chems have ever committed to disc. Thankfully the other collaborations are much better. "Believe" with Bloc Party front man Kele Okereke is a first-rate slice of electropop, pairing a menacing keyboard line with a bunch of off-handed retro synth blips. The result is one of the most driving and addictive tracks they've ever done, and it also found success as a single. "The Boxer" (bringing back Tim Burgess) is pretty much pure pop and is kind of janky, but it's a good deal of fun anyway. This time the softer spot goes to the Magic Numbers, who command the uplifting R&B tune "Close Your Eyes". It is actually quite good, and even if it's a little hokey, I dig the ensemble vocal performance of the Numbers, and the result is one of the best ballads the Chemicals ever did. Also successful is "Hold Tight London", a druggy and somewhat bouncy tune that has the feel of a journey on a bullet train.
As for the non-collabs, it pretty much picks up where the last album leaves off ("The Big Jump" would have slotted in Come With Us perfectly), though they don't really reach above "dancefloor filler" until the final two tracks (in fact, the only two which are not based off a guest appearance or vocal sample), both of which rank pretty high in the Chemical canon. "Marvo Ging" is a stormer of a tune, taking the same Indian-sounding psychedelic instrumentation they've used in the past (it sounds like a massively distorted stringed instrument) and adapting it to a stomping dance track. And "Surface to Air" is a friendly, slow building, and epic guitar-led jam that closes out the album on a high note, and should satisfy the purists who think the "real" Chems left years ago. But essentially, it comes down to one question - how much do you like pop music? It's not like their talent has gone anywhere - these songs are just as well-arranged and labored as their past material, and the album is set up for multiple plays. It's true that they are setting their sights a little lower, but they're knocking a few of them out of the park, and even if it's their most uneven, this is still a good album with a few great tracks. They did win a Grammy for this one, for what it's worth.
We Are the Night (2007)
I never imagined the Chemicals could make a mediocre album, not after five good-to-great studio albums in a row, not from a pair of studio junkies like these two. This isn't bad, but it's wildly uneven, and it marks the album in which they finally let the guest appearances get the best of them. Everything about the first single, "Do It Again", is second-rate - the generic beat, the awful rhymes, the simple melody, and the practically unheard of guest rapper (Ali Love? That's the best they could do??) But there really isn't a single good guest spot here - "All Rights Reversed" (Klaxons) and "Battle Scars" (Willy Mason) are both forgettable, and "The Pills Won't Help You Now" (Tim Smith...sadly not the Cardiacs guy) is a weak imitation of "The Test" from two albums back. You can give them points for branching out (the deep-voiced, spaghetti western feel of "Battle Scars" is certainly something new), but it doesn't amount to much when they don't really do it well. It seems like the Chems are trying to write around their guest vocalists, but are unable to come up with anything but generic backing music. Much has been made of the second single, "The Salmon Dance", but there's not much to it - it's fun and has a trippy beat, but it doesn't rise above "Sesame Street hip-hop". It also appears to have made a lot of people angry, but I think that's mostly because the album's not solid enough to use up space on what's basically a novelty tune. The frustrating thing is that they still show the ability to pump out a great dancefloor stomper if they try hard enough - "Saturate" is a booming and melodic track that's carefully produced and full of peaks, and the title track is a steady and pulsating groove. The one indispensible jam here is "Burst Generator", one of their best yet, an epic electro stormer that builds to a euphoric climax. But there's only so much good material here - the electro-disco "Modern Midnight Conversation" is a peppy, percussion heavy workout with a memorable vocal sample, but it suffers from a lack of similar dance tracks to compliment it. Simply put, this would have sounded excellent on Come With Us. Actually, if you remove all the tracks with the word "feat." in it, you would end up with a pretty good and psychedelic EP full of mind-bending effects and catchy melodies. But even still, I can count the truly essential tracks on here on two fingers (“Burst Generator” and “Saturate"), which is way too low for a group of this talent. This one won another Grammy, further proof that the NARAS has no clue about anything outside classic rock.
B-Sides, Volume 1 (2007)
Kind of a low-key release. I haven't heard too many of these before, most of which were only available on limited edition singles and EPs. No overlap with the second disc of Singles 93-03, for what it's worth. I don't hold up too much hope since some of what I've heard were kind of silly, half-baked experiments ("Scale", which I hadn't heard since I got Hey Boy Hey Girl single 11 years ago!), but I'll pick it up regardless.
Another greatest hits compilation, only two albums after their last one. It's not as good as that one and misses a lot of great stuff, but are two more new tracks ("Keep My Composure", with Spank Rock, and "Midnight Madness"). This is quite notable however for gathering up all their Electronic Battle Weapon releases, which were the 12 inches that mostly were released for DJ use. These are mostly album tracks ("Don't Stop the Rock", "It Doesn't Matter", "Hoops", etc.) that were tweaked to be a little more DJ-friendly. The ones that didn't appear on a studio album were pretty hard to find, so this does have some value to fans, although it's exhausting to listen to the entire disc at once. EBW10 is "Midnight Madness", the only track to appear on both discs.
The Chemical Brothers Remixes (2008)
Remixes of other artists by the Chemical Brothers. In addition to their great studio albums, the Chems were one of the best and most in-demand remix units around in the mid-90's. I don't know for sure but I think most of these predate Dig Your Own Hole. I've had a listen and it's pretty damn good...the Chems were great at reimagining tunes and making them their own, and do a number of interesting things that don't quite fit the normal remix mold. Full review coming at some point.
You've got to give them credit - despite scoring five #1 albums in the UK, winning two Grammies in a row, and proving they could spin out hits by writing simple tunes around dubious guest vocalists, they decided to follow-up with their least commercial and arguably most ambitious album yet, and even willingly disqualified themselves for the album chart by including a DVD. If you haven't really enjoyed a Chemical Brothers album since Surrender, give this one a shot - there are no guest vocalists at all (most of the vocal spots are handled by Rowlands himself), and the album is based more off their Electronic Battle Weapon series than the pure pop/hip-hop material they've been turning in recently. It's layered, psychedelic, and their most album-based release yet - beatless opener "Snow" wouldn't really be listenable otherwise, but it does a fine job here. In fact, there is no real single - "Escape Velocity" is nearly 12 minutes (!), and "Swoon" is much too noisy and piercing to break through the way their previous singles have. This is a record of euphoric peaks and well-timed valleys, focusing less on the dance floor and more on swirling washes of sound; there are lots of little things hidden in the mix that are easy to miss. There is a constant and somewhat unsettling old-school psychedelic feel through the whole thing, an effect that owes a great amount to the vintage synthesizers in use here. For example, "Dissolve", an explosive riff track, begins with a spacey and wondrous orchestral synth melody that sounds lifted from Klaus Schulze's Irrlicht, while "Escape Velocity" phases in synths that sound like they were sampled from "Baba O'Reilly", and at one point uses oscillators that are surprisingly close to the ones the Silver Apples used.
That said, there isn't too much that should be unfamiliar here. While the Krautrock groove of "K+D+B" (one of the album's best) uses real drums and has an orchestral feel, this is the type of layered electronic sound they'd perfected throughout the 90's, and in some ways, it feels like a continuation of Surrender. The main difference is a lack of any real dance floor bangers - the pulverizing "Horse Power" comes closest, but it's got an off-speed, galloping rhythm and a wonky melody, along with a repeated sample of a horse that may just be too much for the nightclub crowd. But they haven't lost their power - "Escape Velocity" has a terrifying and intense build-up period, taking it several bars beyond what you'd expect, and "Swoon" essentially takes Orbital's "Lush 3.1" and distorts the hell of it, giving it an ear-destroying feel. Not everything here is remarkable - "Another World" was a single, but it feels half-finished and relies on some scraping synthesizer noises, and the closer "Wonders of the Deep" is essentially a retread of "Surface to Air". But the whole is really more than the sum of its parts, and this is easily their best album in over a decade.
Don't Think (2012)
The live album we all thought was inevitable in 2000 has finally arrived (actually, the soundtrack to a concert film). What took them so long? The Chems have always had a reputation for a great live show, but coming out now, it's also a reminder that these guys haven't exactly slacked off the last decade. It actually draws fairly equally from all seven of their albums, though it's pretty heavy on inter-song mixing. Not to the extent of say, Daft Punk's Alive 2007, but the mash-ups are more impressive (fusing "Galvanize" and "Leave Home" is not the sort of thing that should work, and yet, there it is). Ultimately, it's not even about what tracks you like or don't like - at their worst, the Chems lean too heavily on a big beat and a simple hook, which is exactly the sort of thing that sounds great given a couple minutes of space on a live album. It's really just an hour-plus dance party that alternates between massive beats ("Horse Power", "Don't Think") and more psychedelic skygazers such as "Swoon" and "Star Guitar" (which get mixed together), and holy hell is it good. The Brothers are DJs at heart, and the way they consistently tweak every part of the mix and throw in new elements makes this sound a lot like Brothers Gonna Work It Out but with all original material, which is a great thing indeed. For example, "Don't Think" breaks down several minutes in and goes into an improvised build-up that eventually becomes a jam on "Out of Control", eventually dropping a bunch of samples from "Setting Sun", slicing up the guitar part and mixing it into the bass line. And this kind of thing is pretty much going on the whole time - whether it's giving "Believe" an intense break-down or reducing "Block Rockin' Beats" to a disco machine gun of intense noise, little is done straight ("Escape Velocity" is the only track that sounds like they're just playing the CD, but that one's so massive that it's easy to forgive).
In other words, this really is the Chems version of Alive 2007 - something to say that it's always been about more than the studio albums, something to make you look at their body of work as a whole and realize why these guys are legends. This is a must.