The Chemical Brothers
Daft Punk were never supposed to be the guys that people lost their shit over. I mean, shit, I still play Discovery all the damn time, don’t get me wrong. But the Chemical Brothers were the band that changed your life, and the problem is that while Daft Punk went from being gimmicky to profound geniuses in robot helmets, the Chemicals went from the top of their game to relying on guest stars and gimmicks to make their way through an album. 2010 everything drastically realigned, as Daft Punk recorded a Hans Zimmer-style film score and people reacted horribly for it not being the second coming, and the Chemicals recorded a back-to-basics record. One where everyone who heard it had the same reaction - surprise, then elation. Further is the best Chemical Bros album since Come With Us and/or Dig Your Own Hole, whichever one you prefer (me, I’m a Come With Us guy), and a strong contender for best album when held against either. Yeah, push the button was dopey, and We Are the Night was garbage, both of them spend way too much time with aging icons or annoying newbies. The Chemicals are never going to record an all-star tour de force like Plastic Beach or XTRMNTR (even though the former could never have happened without their example and the latter couldn’t have happened without their direct involvement). Their great collaborations always seemed to take reference points into another direction - turning the Beatles and Public Enemy into one sound, taking an unhinged Kool Keith rant and making it into mathematics, mutating New Order into Primal Scream and back again, making Richard Ashcroft into a soul diva - which is something that has happened less and less on their records until it stopped happening at all. If they ever were master collaborators, they aren’t anymore. There are no star moments on Further, that’s it’s first big step towards greatness that the Chemicals take. It’s not an admission of guilt, but a problem that needed solving. The lack of identity that a drive towards replication and collaboration was destroying their sound.
If “Setting Sun” and “Let Forever Be” were arguments that there was no need to copy the Beatles if you could just become the Beatles, then they needed to learn that lesson instead of teach it. Attempting towards greatness, for these guys anyway, was what was keeping them from being great. Even then, while the Chemicals wanted to make (and made) really amazing dance music, they clearly had eyes on non-dance influences - their records reeked of Public Enemy and My Bloody Valentine and Bob Dylan, not Kraftwerk. That’s what I dug about them. So Further is 8 songs, only one of them over 6 minutes. Each of them build and expand geometrically, there are voices but they are amorphous, and often it is just a modified version of their own voices. Rather than two guys with decks and keyboards trying to be rock gods, these are two guys trying to make songs that build to an awesome scribble noise, to make you dance, to make you turn it up. They do their own thing, for the first time in a while, and in doing so have made the best work of their career. This is the first whole album of theirs (not tracks, those they’ve had plenty) which can stand up to the heroes they’re pretending towards. Back to basics albums are rarely anything more than holding patterns, so their holding up relies on great songs. Further is 8 for 8 on great songs, even the gestures that might at first cause you to get anxious: “Horse Power” repeats the phrase a bunch of times, with actual horse noises. It’s dorky and anachronistic until the piece coheres around a demolishing loop, which then does battle with other loops for supremacy. When the horse sample returns it’s eaten by the machine, who has no damn time to stop. “K+D+B” starts off as a phenomenal motown drum beat, something James Lavelle would glom onto, and makes that secondary to a perfect shoegaze-y ebb and flow, becoming a perfect psych track seemingly haphazardly. “Dissolve” makes “Private Psychedelic Reel” into a dinosaur. The opening triptych of songs “Snow”, “Escape Velocity”, and “Another World” are a showcase for everything great that this band has been capable of. “Snow” doesn’t even have a beat, or a scribble, or a psychedelic vibe whatsoever. It’s just a voice and synths, and dynamics so subtle they would make Liquid Liquid sound like kid punks stumbling through chord changes at a talent show. “Escape Velocity” is a long, beat driven build to a song that sounds like it is blasting through layers of atmosphere only to explode into dancefloor-banger and recede into a Who’s Next-style ride-out. “Another World” is less driving than both previous tracks but shows how the kind of Chemical Bros variation of a pop single can be bombastic and tender all at once. All three taken as a whole lay out everything possible within the defined borders of their sound. “Swoon” is the newest-sounding track, and it probably isn’t new so much as it is just so damn good. It’s a standout on an album of standouts, 6 minutes of cooing voices and swirling siren effects that builds and then hit and then hit and then hits. “There’s nothing else” over and over again, summing up the albums’ mission statement, the Chemicals saying “we’re just gonna do *Chemical Bros* this time”
The closer “Wonders of the Deep” takes the elements, dynamics, feelings of a rock song - hell, a Flaming Lips song - and traps euphoric lightning in a Chemical Bros song. That’s finally enough for them, to make great Chemical Bros songs, make a great Chemical Bros album. In 2010, that’s not something that was in high demand, or even had much of an impact when it arrived. That really doesn’t matter much, because this has been a long time coming. The Chemical Bros making the album they always had in them, and making very little fuss about it.
This wasn’t put forth as a masterpiece, or “the album of their career”. This wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. But it is. Take notice.
-Sean Witzke, 2010