by Stephanie Duncan
At the very least, one thing that can't be said about the Chemical Brothers is that their sound is stale. In an increasingly narrow and looked down upon genre, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons burst out onto the scene with fresh new energy featuring new friends as well as old. The duo's big beat sound remains but they also keep that highly transferrable dance-floor-to-radio vibe intact. Certainly this album is broader emotionally and dances remarkably close to being completely away from the big beat genre it is typically thrown in.
The album kicks off with a track featuring stylized string arrangment samples and none other than Q-Tip from a Tribe Called Quest. This is far from the edge of their, well, musician studded album. Tim Burgess of the Charlatans reappears with another track, his first collaboration with the Brothers since 'Life is Sweet'. With Kele Okerere of the Bloc Party they go for a more minimalist, less lyrical substance approach. In true Chemical Brothers fashion, there's no lack of buzzing instrumentals or sirens spread out through to save it from dull house territory. Anna Lynne's vocals are accompanied by a very fade-in, fade-out dreamland track that might have ended up sound awkward if not for the segway from Okerere and the overall charm of her voice. Then we have the moments closer to the first relases of the Chemical Brothers with "oh look, these samples are so atypical and quirky, isn't that grand?". It plays awfully close to the line of "anyone can do this with a computer at home" but the substance and sweetness of the previous track manages to save them from completely tripping all over itself. Anwar Supsterstar and the Magic Numbers round out and finish up the collaborations on the album, serving as proof that when exploring original material, that's where the duo shines. Close Your Eyes is a tender and emotional song with a bare minimum of samples and beats that showcase vocalist Romeo Stodart's voice.
'Shake Break Bounce' manges to deliver to a Top 40 crowd without sounding trite, which proves that the Chemical Brothers have truly mastered the house-hip-hop genre. Marvo Ging is sweetly repetitive and oozes with chimes as well as charm. Surfance to Air starts out ominously but again, manages to punch with charm and emotion without the aid of vocals. They sample string arrangements subtly and blend it all together with a sad optimism and ultimately, a blooming happy vibe that suggest hope for things to come.
I don't doubt there will be more releases from the duo but if they continue this way hopefully they will all be infused with emotion and energy like this.