A Return to Speeding
Most people who’ve been listening to music have at least one memory related to British big-beat duo the Chemical Brothers, who along with acts like Daft Punk, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim brought their kind of DJ-centric electronic music into the mainstream. It’s those memories that make the latest Chemical Brothers album, Born in the Echoes, a gem. It would be easy to disappoint with expectations so high, but the Chemical Brothers prove here they’ve still got it.
With a robust set of heavy tracks, an eclectic line-up of oddball and superstar collaborations, and even a promo video directed by Michel Gondry, it’s almost like traveling back in time to the late ’90s and early ’00s era of new electronica bleeding out of clubs and into MTV. Their sound is, for the most part, highly polished, highly computerized and highly energetic. The Chemical Brothers have never been big on introspection in their music, and Born in the Echoes is obviously not dominated by its slow and quiet moments. Rather, tracks like “Go” and “I’ll See You There” are focused on the buildup and the break in energy.
“Go” features a snappy club rhythm, Devo-esque synth lines and catchy vocals from Q-Tip, which all seem to be in constant acceleration. After the tension and volume build through the chorus, the song immediately snaps back into line and starts rebuilding, like a revving engine that drops RPM’s only to shift up a gear and go faster. It’s an escalator perpetually going up and perpetually landing on the ground floor, an Escher infinite stairway in musical form.
One of the albums’ most interesting moments comes in “Under Neon Lights,” a St. Vincent collaboration that fuses a Kraftwerk/YMO-inspired sound palette with lyrics of an unexpectedly avant-garde melancholy. Suicide is a theme that rarely makes its way into this kind of high-energy dance music, but it works strangely well here. The album’s real centerpiece, however, is clearly “Reflexion,” a track that is clearly built for going fast and getting lost. It feels a bit like the Chemical Brothers’ own past single “Star Guitar,” both being bright and optimistic dance songs with a sense of constant motion, like they’re speeding along a road to nowhere. The percussion-free “Radiate” shows melody is clearly not the duo’s strongest suit, but they get points for giving it a shot.
With Born in the Echoes, the Chemical Brothers manage to look back to their past spirit while still staying relevant and contemporary. It would be tough to ask for a more solid album — even the filler tracks have their place here. Long story short, the Brothers still know how to bang.