Album of the Week: The Chemical Brothers, 'Born in the Echoes'


The Chemical Brothers, 'Born in the Echoes'
The Chemical Brothers, 'Born in the Echoes' (© 2015 Astralwerks.)

"These guys are HOOJ!" as they would say across the pond. Even as a fan, I had forgotten just how successful the Chemical Brothers were, especially in the 1990s. This is their eighth album, and only the previous one, Further, released five years ago, didn't go to number 1 on the album charts in the U.K.

The sale of those albums was always buoyed by big hit singles, especially when they did awesome collaborations, like with Noel Gallagher on "Setting Sun." For me, they had captured the zeitgeist in a six-minute house tune, but they'd never made the great album of their career; they weren't meant to. They never even seemed to take the sequencing seriously, as if they had to do it for the industry but would rather not bother, because they grew up to be DJs with the idea of making great 12" singles that other DJs in clubs — like their beloved hang out The Hacienda in Manchester — would rave over! In a recent interview they explained their role: "We still want that feeling of transportation. It's a simple aim, but really hard to do."

On their latest album, Born in the Echoes, the Chemical Brothers show that task isn't insurmountable.

Mojo said about Born In The Echoes, "[The Chemical Brothers] sound like themselves again!" and I would argue there's never been a good album-length version of them — until now. It's constructed as one piece, designed to be heard all together, with a flow, crescendos and drops, and a definite beginning and end. Throughout the record, they lead us down dark hallways of experimental noise and then out again into the brightest pop tunes of their career.

Playing live has always been the high point of the Chemical Brothers' career, succeeding in making the concert experience magical for thousands, as documented in Don't Think, the film they made in 2012. As a result, they approach this album as if it is a set, allowing the tracks to take us on a musical and lyrical trip.

It starts with a massive opening track, "Sometimes I Feel So Deserted," which lands in your ears as if it was a spaceship come to take you to a different realm. The attention to detail in the sound is extraordinary, and it sounds much better on a big hi-fi at home or in my headphones. This track fulfills you immediately as a fan; it has all the signatures that you want from the genre and from these Brothers specifically: A little acid house and a touch of psychedelia, as if greeting you with open arms like an old buddy would; you feel immediately enveloped in their world.

As the Chemical Brothers told Pitchfork recently, they just like making funny sounds and linking them together, and they still use some of the same equipment they always have. They also continue with the thoughtfully selected collaborations. "We're only here to make you go!" they say, through the track-two collaboration with Q-Tip, as if they want to warn us that they still have the ability to make "everybody jump out of their mind, jump out of their skins."

"Is this really all I want?" St. Vincent asks in her cameo during track 3, which seamlessly melds into "EML Ritual," which starts with the phrase, "You know, but you can't understand …" then veers into "I don't know what to do, I'm going to lose my mind."

As grandfathers of that scene, as the Chemical Brothers are, they know that's playing into the stereotype of the genre. They're not trying to be particularly philosophical, but seem to suggest that, the end of this trip, we should be prepared to be more vulnerable, and it's delivered with the air of wisdom, which only Beck can bring in "Wide Open."

On Born in the Echoes, the Chemical Brothers have shown us they've grown from monsters of the six-minute, big-beat song to album architects of some standing.

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