The Chemical Brothers are undoubtedly one of the most recognised names in the electronic dance scene. Ages ago, when people were still trying to figure out what an electronic record should be like, the duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons had already nailed the formula – bangers in the front, psychedelic tracks in the back, and the maximum amount of big-name celebrity guests as possible. And it worked. It worked for several albums and for many years, raising The Brothers’ status in the dance scene to god-like on the back of several award winning records and anthems, as well as some of the most visually stunning live performances within the genre. Alongside The Prodigy, Orbital or Underworld, The Brothers brought the electronic dance scene to the forefront of mainstream music back in the mid-90s, headlining festivals and paving the way for a whole new scene, much to the despair of the older generations. To this day, in the midst of what soon will be referred to as “The Lockdown Age”, we still look at the Manchester duo as one of the few remaining big guns when it comes to electronic music, and they could have sat comfortably in that throne for decades to come simply by sticking to their blueprint for an award-winning record.
But that would have been the easy way. And one does not pile up six No 1 albums in the UK, the Brit Award or six Grammys along a 25 year old career by being as lazy as I am before I exercise – “when” I exercise might be the appropriate expression. And so, in 2010, Rowlands and Simons took things one step Further (pun intended) – they reinvented themselves and their formula once again, stripping their 7th studio album from numerous collaborations, a trademark since their 1995 debut Exit Planet Dust, and from more conventional club belters. This is not to say Further lacks The Brothers’ stamp of diversity and power, or their traditional mashup of various genres and styles. Don’t worry, it is very much still a party that perfectly captures the fist-in-the-air-sweaty-3AM-rave vibe one associates to the duo’s previous work, but it does so in a much more mature approach – I know what I just said is madly incoherent, but bear with me! The records kicks off with Snow, a goose bump enabler built on the back of a continuously repeated mantra of “Your love keeps lifting me / lifting me higher”, which signals duo’s new approach – this is no “banger in the front”, unlike the tactic followed in 2005’s Push the Button or 2002’s Come With Us, but a prologue of what’s to come.
And “what’s to come” is Escape Velocity, arguably The Chemical Brothers most complex and ambitious track ever. I have had the opportunity… hell, I’ll say it, the “privilege” of seeing the duo live several times and can assure you, dear reader, that Escape Velocity is everything live electronic music should aim to be: a 12-minute long marathon, with a never-ending pile of synthesisers that culminate in an explosion of light and sound and life around minute 2, when The Brothers put on the 6th gear and take us to hyperspace via their more traditional hard-beat and acid house sound. As the track develops, it is easy to forget that we are listening to a single tune and we end up as visibly confused as a dog looking for a stick his human didn’t throw – it’s OK, I have been there. My father says electronic music is basically repetitive noises, but even he would agree that The Brothers did something different here [Author’s note: on second thought, he probably wouldn’t say that – most definitely not]. Following 10 minutes of pure joy, Escape Velocity returns to its original pace before finishing off with an arpeggio section that could have come straight from The Who. Personally, nothing else on the album, and arguably in the duo’s entire discography, really reaches the level of Escape Velocity. It is a career-defining track that to you, dear reader, can be best compared to writing in CAPS LOCK – the message might be the same, but the delivery IS THAT MUCH MORE POWERFUL!
Another World, which starts with gentle guitar riffs that soon turn into wobbly lounge sounds that perfectly capture the lost-in-space feeling one associates with the track’s title, paves the way to Dissolve, a personal favourite. On Further, The Brothers’ phenomenal manipulation of synthesisers and high tech FX is clearly one of the stars – by removing most of the vocals, Rowlands and Simons really allow the technology to shine. This might make you think that is a record made to be listened indoors, with crystal clear sound and perhaps even resorting to the latest state-of-the-art headphones. But no, my friend, it is not. Further is a record made to be listened to live, outdoors, in a large field, surrounded by your mates and via the biggest sound and visual systems you (or, more realistically, the event organiser) can get their hands on – Dissolve is a great example of this. Horse Power, which follows, is perhaps the track that most recalls The Brothers’ previous work, being the hardest sound of the entire record. Packed with acid synths, break-beat rhythms and an absolutely great sample of a horse whinnying, it is a powerful tune that brings you closer to the acid and electronic world The Chemical Brothers were originally known for.
What also places Further apart from the duo’s previous records is its pace – it is a patient and slow work of art, with sounds and synthesisers gradually building on top of each other in a weirdly zen balance that flows seamlessly from beginning to end. Ultimately, and unlike most of The Brothers’ previous work, Further feels much more like a record than a collection of songs. It is the closest approximation to a live Chemical Brothers set and, to fully appreciate the experience, one has to listen to it in sequence, just as its creators intended – in fact, and as a general rule of thumb, let’s try to avoid the “shuffle” function when listening to music. It’s because of this small but very powerful tool that artists are increasingly petrified with the notion of a concept album, scared of listeners skipping over most of the songs and missing out on part, if not most, of the overarching message of the record. In any case, and back to the record in question, the careful selection and alignment of the tracks in Further brings much more expression and relevance to each individual song. Take Swoon, for example – the track, phenomenal on a standalone basis, gains even more power in the context of the whole album. Allow me to elaborate: after the intense and dark Horse Power, we are rewarded with a hearty dose of light euphoria that lifts the record altogether – and, in making you wait for this reward, the payoff is exponentially greater. Clever fellas.
Further also allows The Brothers to explore the non-electronic side of their music in more depth, with their ultimate expression on tracks like K+D+B or Wonders of the World. Both have much more of a stadium feel than a club vibe, and explore new sounds that branch out of The Brothers’ traditional acid house beats. This is an album that goes beyond electronic, cleverly mixing elements of ambient and original pop music to appeal to… well, anyone with eardrums, honestly. It is worth mentioning that every song is accompanied by its own fantastic music video, clearly developed for huge video systems – in other words, clearly not my laptop screen while writing this review. While listening to Further, I am constantly reminded of why like electronic music to begin with and feel the obligation to correct my father’s definition of it – Further is composed of noises alright, but they are noises worth repeating. In short, Further lives up to its name.