“The thing we realized when we’re playing live is that sometimes it’s the random things that cause the biggest reactions. A delay or a drop, something that no one is expecting…”
After 15-plus years of definitive Big Beat mayhem, the Chems return with an album that takes a left turn into just the right territory…
Retaining signature Chemical bravura and the ‘ol Up-crescendo/Down-splashfzz that keeps fans hooked and seduces casual listeners, new album Further frees the digital siblings from their usual guest-draped song structures, into an autonomous galaxy where tracks aren’t air-sculpted to fit the frame of selected lips, but follow the intuitive muse of ‘where the sound beckons we shall go…’
A start: How to Rock the Block off.
So the Nineties are in their infancy, still frailly recovering from the neon-hangover monstrosity of the Eighties. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons bump into each other’s future selves while studying history at a university in Manchester. As fate would arrange, both opted for said university because “the greatest club in the world was a bus ride away…” both having had life-altering experiences at the club – Hacienda – one of the first to nurture the newly forming House music/ Ecstasy culture. And so the trip began.
By ’91 the two, who had instantly connected over their shared love of Run DMC and other early Hip-Hop and DJ records, had set up shop, running their own club night in the back of a pub; recalls Simons, “It seemed like you needed superhuman powers to do that in London, but in Manchester it was more, “Yes, we can do that.”” They dubbed their DJ night ‘Naked Under Leather’, and, whilst being sparsely populated at best, it was highly formative – a nest where cut ’n pasting everything from guitar-based Punk and Rock to Hip-Hop and House (a formula way ahead of its time, launching what would eventually become the now blasé Dance-Rock and Big Beat movements) led to the signature Chemical Brothers sound.
Within a trio of years the real world of 9-5 shook its head and gave up, as the duo smelted their experiments into 1995’s genre-coining ‘Exit Planet Dust.’
Some kind of world domination:
Don’t look back.
So the next thing they know they’re getting residencies at all the choicest clubs and Noel Gallagher is knocking on the studio door and Prodigy frontman Keith Flint leaping out of the crowd and onstage to whirl the dervish like the mad man he be. By the time ‘97’s Dig Your Own Hole dropped they were the new kinda something. Block rocking beats indeed.
Uncommonly for an electronic outfit, the Chems never lost their edge, never dropped into the nether-lands of out-of-fashion – all but one of their first six albums sauntered into the room at #1 on the UK charts (the other one not exactly a stinker, debuting in the top 10). Reflects Tom: “We still feel in love with the music, still feel connected to the music we made – from our first music to the music we’re making today.”
Further: “We want to sound as if we’re only half in control.”
Unfailingly able to marry commercial appreciation with doing things their own way, the Chems’ latest is at once strikingly familiar, while bearing a complete shift in focus. Recalling their sonically looser Electronic Battle Weapon E.P.’s, Further eschews their time-honoured tradition of constructing songs around guest vocals, and there are no big names on the credit-roll. The two decided to set the controls for unknown destinations, and, in blatant disregard for our track-obsessed iPod culture, crafted an album which almost demands a holistic listen – it’s no accident the epic Escape Velocity incorporates a very Tommy-era The Who keyboard riff, recalling the glory daze of concept albums.
While the 8 tracks easily stand on their own, there is a flow which demands listening from start to finish, appreciating the album’s arc.
Says Tom: “Listening to music now, it’s just skip, shuffle, shuffle and this record flies in the other direction […] We put the record together in the same way we’d put [together] a live set.”
Ed: “The thing we realized when we’re playing live is that sometimes it’s the random things that cause the biggest reactions. A delay or a drop, something that no one is expecting. The randomness factor definitely adds an edge to things.”
It is perhaps this appreciation for smudges and accidental blurs, for the surprise of the unexpected, that informs the concert feel of Further, from the crackling binary code that haphazardly beckons opener Snow toward beat, through the anthemic splendour of Escape Velocity, the music ebbs and swells in an organic build-up and release which spans the record.
Further (which, in keeping with psychedelic folklore, was the name of Ken Kesey & The Merry Prankster’s legendary bus, or rather, bus trips) was released end-June. Just to add cherries on top, it comes with a limited-edition DVD-package: said package features visual tracks that echo the album’s sonic arcs, like mini-movies stitched into a concert-length narrative, especially created by long-standing visual collaborator Adam Smith. What a recipe – the latest Chemicals in audio-visual surround!
Written By : Mickdotcom