Following their Sunday night set on The Other Stage at Glastonbury this year, featuring incredible almost 3D lighting effects and an immense, ear-shattering audience, The Chemical Brothers prove to us with their latest album Born In The Echoes, that over twenty years after their first release they are still going strong.
The album opens in true Chemical Brothers style: crowd-encouraging claps and a repeated synth sound that really defines their sound on Sometimes I Feel So Deserted, which was released on Annie Mac’s Radio 1 show in April. The drums gradually build up to introduce the high-pitched and delicate singing voice sampled from Big Moses’ Brighter Days (1997). The track is fairly rigid in terms of structure, repeating sections and adding new parts, including an almost liquid-y synth that crawls into your head and refuses to leave.
Next is the single Go, which features Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest (1988). Initially a Billie Jean-esque drumbeat is met with an underlying running bassline and vocal interruptions of “Can’t think, can’t sleep, can’t breathe”. The opening of this track is reminiscent of arguably one of Chemical Brothers’ biggest tracks Hey Boy Hey Girl, but the chorus is unique with the main hook bound to be following you everywhere you go this summer.
Under Neon Lights is the third track, which opens with the haunting and echo-y vocals of St Vincent (who will playing at Greenman Festival this August), until leading on to the very funky main sound of the track. However, the lyrics ruin the upbeat mood as she lucidly sings “she moves to suicide” which echoes long after you’ve switched off the music. Next is EML Ritual, which, after a brief google search, I discovered stands for Electronic Music Laboratories – a company who made synthesizers in the 1970s and early 80s, presumably the synths the Mancunian duo preferred during their early career (although wouldn’t it be great if it stood for Eating Media Lunch, a New Zealand TV programme). This track is very methodical; Matt Cox, The Chemical Brothers’ tech guy, says “it’s a real challenge keeping everything in time for an hour and a half” and on this track it is easy to see why. They use a “Sync Lock” box to keep everything in time during their live shows. Brilliant idea.
Next on the listing is I’ll See You There, and by this point in the album I think I have decided there’s only so much Chemical Brothers you can listen to in one go. As much as I love the classics like Hey Boy Hey Girl and Block Rockin’ Beats, I begin to lose faith. Each song begins to sound incredibly similar in structure, with so much repetition and the same gaps in synths to re-introduce vocals, it gets boring and unsurprising. Great if you’re at a rave, not so great tapping out a review at the kitchen table when it’s raining outside. I’ll See You There takes a turn for an episode so experimental at the three-minute mark that I thought my speakers had broken. Is it musical genius or rubbish that makes my ears bleed? I can’t tell.
Calm down, super fans: Just Bang gets back into the Chemical Brothers style that I love – it’s a bit more surprising and unsure where the song will take you next. The incredible duo Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have thrown in some nineties sledgehammer synth stabs, interesting kick drum rhythms, a deep, bassy voice, an echo-y female voice to counteract it (perhaps alluding to the nature of the track’s name), and a not overly assertive bass synth that makes the song sound like it should be unassumingly playing in the corner of Urban Outfitters.
On Reflexion, the first syncopated beats make you want to bob your head. The song builds with sweeping chords and some experimental pitch wobbles as the main hook. I prefer dance as a genre when it isn’t as overwhelming as a club anthem, but the more versatile tracks like Reflexion, that have the capacity to fill the dance floor yet also obtain a real listenable quality that you can enjoy at home too.
The opening synth to the next track, Taste Of Honey is long and droning in a very obvious attempt to mimic a bee, and the casual bass combined with the overall tone makes for a very laid back track, a very different sound for the Brothers. Then we are greeted by high-pitched strings followed by choral vocals that distinctly reminded me of the opening voice in Chet Faker’s Cigarettes and Chocolate, followed by a scratchy synth that leads back into the laid back feel - an interesting and short song in comparison to the other tracks.
The title track, Born In The Echoes, features Cate Le Bon’s voice, which could turn it easily into a pop song, and on a first listen you could be surprised it is The Chemical Brothers. But then in come our familiar dirty synths again and they’re back in their comfort zone. However, another contrast is thrown into the mix as we experience the juxtaposing choral atmosphere of Radiate, which has a soothing quality, as if hugging you to sleep after a wild night of partying, similar to 2005’s Close Your Eyes, closing on a perfect cadence and a male voice whispering “radiate”. The album comes to a close, again showing us the more calming and less dance-y tone with the appearance of Beck’s sleek voice and some tentative melodies on the closing track Wide Open, which as it progresses sounds more and more dreamlike to end the album softly.