Digging Out of Their Own Hole
As we approached the 2010s, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons watched their career trajectory as The Chemical Brothers plunge about as far and hard as the world’s financial markets. The acceptance developed over a 12-year-old catalog up to and including Push the Button was pretty much destroyed with We are the Night, an album so lifeless that even its gimmick track “The Salmon Dance” was notorious poison on top of poison. But recovery is possible, and on Further The Chemical Brothers seem to turn to an unlikely remedy: improvisation.
There’s a freeflowing, almost live-set feel to the songs on Further that’s unlike much of what we’ve experienced on prior Chemical Brothers albums. Simons and Rowlands now appear willing to juggle things in ways we haven’t heard before. For instance, they’re good for an abstract interlude and a hazy big-beat epic on almost every album. Yet instead of being buried in the middle and tacked on the end, respectively, the fuzzy “Snow” and the anthemic shapeshifter “Escape Velocity” pair up to kick off this release in confounding, astounding fashion.
We’ll never know if Rowlands and Simons stumbled upon this formula naturally or cribbed notes from new electro-pop avant-garde like Crystal Castles and HEALTH, who may have once cribbed from them. But when The Chemical Brothers can make atmospheric stuff that occasionally drops hard beats altogether (“Another World,” “Wonders of the Deep”) in the style of the latest and greatest theatrical synth-tinged indie-rock, and manage to position that material next to a block-rocker (“Dissolve”) that should rightly soundtrack sports highlights, they have a whole new sort of good thing going.
There are moments where the duo seem mired in some sort of post-We are the Night healing process. The neigh-filled “Horse Power,” simultaneously recalling jokester contemporary Fatboy Slim and their own older track “Acid Children,” tries too hard to convince listeners of the bigness of its beats, while “K+D+B” seems overpowered by buzzing loops and doesn’t try hard enough to rely on its subtle foundation of breaks. These are minor issues, though, and from top to bottom, Further is the first album in a long time showing The Chemical Brothers and their music doing anything but sitting still.