It would be difficult to sum up my feelings on the new Chemical Brothers album in any kind of succinct sentence. My interest in electronic music began around the time that they released their previous album, Further, in 2010. But at the time, my tastes were not nearly mature enough to appreciate it.
The Chemical Brothers’ first album, Exit Planet Dust, was released when I was 4 years old. Twenty years have since passed, and I am both older and wiser. My appreciation for electronic music has affected how I approach and listen to music, including the classics. Though I cannot say that I grew up with The Chemical Brothers, I can proudly say that I know of and greatly appreciate and respect their work and lasting influence.
We were first given a taste of Born In The Echoes in April with the opening track from the album, “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted.” It’s a wonderful beginning to the album, starting with an ethereal synth line and punctuated techno beats before the Brothers’ signature guitar rolls in. The bassline is absolutely infectious as it weaves its way throughout the whole track, playing with and adding to the already brilliant production of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons.
The next track “Go” features Q-Tip on vocals and, similarly, lets the bass guitar do the talking. It’s a nice contrast to the bland and regurgitated digital basslines of today’s top dance music acts. It’s still inherently electronic and experimental, but there’s something more human about it – more accessible. The chorus is where the fun starts though, nodding to Daft Punk in its chords and progressions, though distinctly Chemical Brothers in its own way. Q-Tip adds a great deal of diversity to the tune, owing to his lyrical prowess.
We’re only here to make you go!
“Under Neon Lights” features popular vocalist St Vincent amongst its rhythmic guitar plucks and cohesive drum line. “EML Ritual” again features a vocalist, Ali Love, who himself belongs to house group Hot Natured, who performed at Coachella this year. This track is overtly experimental, utilizing looped vocals and jarring synth chords, reflecting a bad Radiohead acid trip.
“I’ll See You There” follows the bad acid trip theme, recalling thoughts of ’60s era Beatles and their screaming guitar, off-tempo drums and absolutely wild synthesizers. However, the main guitar lick is nostalgic in only the best sense of the word.
To this point, I greatly enjoyed the album. Feelings of nostalgia and novelty swirled about in sonic bliss. However, the last half of the album I found woefully uninspired. “Just Bang” is a classic garage tune, calling back memories of one of Disclosure’s last attempts, “Bang That”. It’s a catchy disco beat that goes on and on, staying true to the classic garage sound. Little embellishments and odd synth risers disrupt the monotony, but otherwise it’s a pretty repetitive tune.
“Taste Of Honey,” to me, is the worst song I’ve ever heard. Not necessarily because of the track writing, but because of the abysmal choice to include the sound of actual buzzing in the production. I couldn’t even finish the track before I had to rush out of my room and take a shower to wash off the horrid memories of being assaulted by gnats when I was little – don’t judge, it was traumatizing. One of its redeeming factors was the heavily processed guitar riff toward the end, but it was far too little too late. Without the flow of the tune carrying it, it was just a nice bit and nothing to write home about.
“Born In The Echoes,” the eponymous track from the album, is more nostalgia than novelty. It feels old and tired, a repeated attempt at ’80s synth rock that just didn’t quite make the cut 30 years ago, and still doesn’t today. “Radiate” feels like an electronic parallel to Arcade Fire, emulating that soft and low vocal, playing with filtered guitar riffs and classic instrumental pairings. However, again, it doesn’t feel like The Chemical Brothers, but rather a distant relative.
The final track, “Wide Open,” features Beck on a rare collaboration. It’s a phenomenal ending track if it hadn’t been preceded by four less than stellar tracks. Beck’s voice subtly floats atop the driving drum pattern and hypnotic bassline, proving that this pairing wasn’t just for the sake of getting his name on the tracklist.
In an interview back in April, Tom Rowlands said, “The most important feature of the album is that it connects with us emotionally in some way. We hope for finding a new way to make you feel. We dream of new sounds and different frames. We have worked with some guest singers but mostly the album is pure Chemical Brothers.”
In response to the first part, I’d agree. I hope that in some future, I find myself emotionally connected to this album in the same way that those who first heard their music in 1994 might. As for his last point, I pointedly disagree. This album is distinctly Chemical Brothers, but it is in no way pure. The last five years have seen musical innovation and change that the Chemical Brothers have not been a part of, and it feels like they’re playing catch up.
You can purchase Born In The Echoes now on iTunes.