SPOTIFY – The Chemical Brothers are undoubtedly not a cult band in commercial terms, still, as artists, they seemingly work outside the mainstream. Dissociating themselves as far as possible from the EDM scene they indirectly helped to produce, a title of a song on Born In The Echoes, “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted” tell its story of the lack of kinship they feel with that movement.
How do The Chemical Brothers do it? Although they have long since gone into dance music’s hall of fame, they are still known primarily as a singles band, building a collection of killer tracks big enough to suggest they might even headline Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage one day, instead of the Other Stage they demolished methodically on the festival’s closing night.
Eight artist album
This is their eighth artist album, 20 years on from Exit Planet Dust – and it does prove unexpectedly hard to name the other six. In that time though they have consistently delivered high octane dancefloor rushes, maintaining high standards and demonstrating their flexibility with a swathe of high-profile collaborations.
Born In The Echoes sees no reason to alter either of those formulas, and there is a satisfying body of clattering percussion here, but Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands commendably refuse to rest on their laurels, honing their sound still further. If anything they are now turning the beat around to face their music of the mid-’90s. Lead single Go isn’t a million miles removed from Leave Home in the groove of its verse, with Q-Tip in fine form, but its killer stroke is to cut loose thrillingly in the wild and beautiful chorus. “No time to rest” indeed!
Folk singer Cate Le Bon in the house!
The title track featuring Wales’ finest chanteuse Cate Le Bon regenerates their penchant for working with folk-leaning singers, after collaborating with Beth Orton on Exit Planet Dust and Come with Us and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval on Surrender. Le Bon’s lyrics, “In the night I could see/hours born in between hours/born in the echoes” bring some much-needed storytelling to the table and lift the song above being just another sonic assault, with the wooziness of the strings bringing a thrillingly discombobulating feel to her words.
Listening to Born In The Echoes sometimes makes you feel like you’re in a flotation tank. Alongside the relentless rhythm track of “Reflexion” the squalls of noise are pitch-shifted to the extent that they’re disorientating, and the instrumentation is so immersive that you don’t find yourself pining for one of their amazing vocalists. “I’ll See You There” returns to their love of 60’s garage band psychedelia with what could be Keith Moon applying the rhythms and a vocal melody reminiscent of Gorillaz “Clint Eastwood.”
Nothing new, but still “born to be enjoyed”
The softer underbelly of the band is growing and makes its relatively understated presence felt towards the end of the album. Reflexion has a nice woozy feel to it, while Radiate is a gorgeous piece of harmonizing, a deeply felt come-down tune with vocals from Tom Rowlands himself. Wrapping up proceedings is Wide Open, featuring Beck, with the third blissful vocal in three.
Born In The Echoes does not reveal anything startlingly new about The Chemical Brothers, but it is more than them simply ticking over, and clearly they have an eye on the future. But then why would we want them to change too much? They’re one of dance music’s national treasures, throwing some of the biggest parties on these and many other shores – and this eighth album has just made their playlist that bit sharper.