Friday, July 23, 2010

Further - The Chemical Brothers


The Chemical Brothers
Astralwerks Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

More than a mere suggestion, “get higher” has been the thesis for the Chemical Brothers’ entire body of work. From the barely disguised ‘H.I.A.’ (try saying it aloud) on American EP to Best-Of compilation single ‘Get Yourself High’, Tom Rolands and Ed Simons have never shied away from referencing narcotics within their hallucinogenic rush of flower-power love and ear-friendly beats. So when ‘Snow’ opens the Chem Bros’ seventh full-length LP with the lone repeated vocal “Your love keeps lifting me higher, lifting me higher”, it further ingrains their catalog’s love affair with 60s psychedelia and early 90s, ecstasy-fueled rave-ups. As a five-minute long glorified introduction, ‘Snow’ defines excessive, but it’s passable not only as a grand summation of The Chemical Brothers’ near two-decade career but as a foreshadowing to what is easily their best record of the past eight years.

Further solves the contentious issue that plagued both 2005’s Push the Button and 2007’s We Are the Night by completely omitting guest-star vocalists. No one can argue the success Noel Gallagher brought to ‘Setting Sun’ or the Grammy nod Q-Tip ensured with ‘Galvanize’ but this compulsion to rope cool kids of a given era began to compromise the flow of Rolands and Simons’ LPs. We Are the Night, for example, didn’t sound like a united set of songs so much as a mixtape of indifferent or failed collaborations. With vocals on Further covered by the relatively unknown Stephanie Dosen or Rolands himself, The Chemical Brothers can finally push their own buttons, crafting songs pure to their muse instead of tailoring them to famous friends.

As a proper, undiluted celebration of their sound, Further also sounds increasingly old-school. It’s more of a compliment than a diss, with ‘Swoon’ boasting some maximized French House and ‘Dissolve’ establishing a coda of life-affirming keys before diving headlong from suspended saw-synths. These are old tricks that, when executed from the masters of the genre, have lost none of their addictive qualities. In fact, the duo take Big Beat to a (dare I say…) higher threshold with ‘Escape Velocity’, a massive dance track that assembles into a few towering, terrifying climaxes. Remember the first time you heard that lengthy bass drop on ‘Out Of Control’? Multiply that moment by about a million.

Like any act unwilling to drastically update their sound over a twenty-year period, The Chemical Brothers occasionally let their age show. ‘Horse Power’, unsurprisingly a favourite among die-hard fans on the band’s official message board, feels torn from Surrender with its call-and-answer robot voices and hard techno rhythms. Toss in a slew of aggravating horse samples and you have a slice of backward-glancing electronica that wilts out of the gate. And while Further occasionally sounds like background music for raver nostalgia, a song like ‘K+D+B’ sounds unusually fresh and modern, even if its lyrics intone something about getting higher, higher, higher.

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