The Chemical Brothers – “Born In The Echoes”
I wanna get something out of the way before we take this review any further. I think electronic music overall is bullshit these days.
Electronic music is predictable garbage puked out to the masses who consume it with the same type of fervor that Americans consume corn syrup. We don’t know why we eat it, but goddamnit does it make us tingle. I mean, the reptilian brain is real, and it is always hungry for something to fulfill one or more of the four F’s right? The onslaught of accessible technology has made it possible for any pretty boy with a chiseled jaw line in a tight t-shirt with glue spiked hair to turn a track with a build and a drop into a predictably victorious disposition on a four beat. Throw in a few hundred strobes, vocals from a pop songstress who sounds like she’s about to climax through the entire song, and then make that show available every week in Vegas and… mmmmm… that sweet, sweet corn syrup. While they had a little more tact in their addressing of the issue, I think both of The Chemical Brothers agree with me on this one.
Outside of a handful of legitimately intriguing electronic young bloods producing music these days, it’s a goddamn dry desert of shame out there. And a solid piece of work from a 20+ year mainstay like The Chemical Brothers is like a giant glass of cold, refreshing lemonade in the shade under a tree. Where EDM is busy mindlessly tapping into the compulsions of the reptilian brain, The Chemical Brothers navigate the depths of the neocortex. The topics of love, insanity, addiction, life and death, spirituality and connectivity are not off limits in the fruits of their creative process–and these are songs that don’t always have lyrics. They just find those spots in your brain and they anchor in. They shouldn’t even be classified in the same category, but you’re bound to have The Chemical Brothers open for people like Tiesto at a festival (with the comment troll hilarity ensuing the next day). Clearly the masses see them in a same category, but we should have put that shit to bed years ago.
Now that I have explained my excitement around this release and how important it is during this dredge of music created by electronic media, let us discuss Born In The Echoes.
Born in the Echoes is something of a return to the style that preceded 2010’s vintage psychedelic soundscape Further. Most notably returning are the vocal accompaniments that fit tracks like a tailored suit. “EML Ritual (Ali Love)”, “Born in the Echoes (Cate Le Bond)” and “Under Neon Lights (St. Vincent)” are some of the darker feeling tracks that the duo has produced, and the strength of the tracks really says something about their versatility. “EML Ritual” has layers of Ali Love saying “I don’t know what to do, I’m going to lose my mind” over and over again on top of one another. And, at some point, you’re deep enough into the track to join him. I found myself cracking my knuckles and buckling in for the trip. “Go (Q-tip)” is gonna go down as one of their most accessible pop efforts. The lyrics from the hip-hop royal leave a lot to be desired, but the track covers for that in its energizing tone. In vintage Chemical Brothers fashion, the album is closed out with the most emotionally engaging track of the album in “Wide Open (Beck).” It is a beautifully atmospheric way for the Brothers send the listener on their way. Honestly, it almost feels odd that it took so long for these two powerhouses to team up. The cosmic trips that the Brothers do so well are laid out for the listener on “I’ll See You There” and “Reflexion.” Then there’s “Taste of Honey,” which sounds like it was composed of all rubber instruments from a world Dr. Suess created. Every time the rising synthesizer sound hits in the song I can picture furry, multicolored hills appearing on the horizon.
My lone knocks on the album go towards a few voids I feel were left, and an oddly placed guitar solo. “Just Bang” seems like it could have done a bit more than just bang. There’s some really great use of some retro samples on this one, but it just feels like it lacks the dimension of pretty much every other track. And the guitar mess at the end of “Taste of Honey” sounds like something that someone forgot to delete in production. It’s falls into the bucket with the way “Where do I Begin” ended on “Dig Your Own Hole.” Just a huge WTF moment in the middle of nearly flawless artistry.
I opened this review with what may seem like arrogance or pretension towards what I deem as a lesser form of music. I hold musicians to a high standard because there is a deep, vast world of experience out there, and musicians can often be our pilots. One dimensional garbage with the goal of placing a DJ in a Vegas residency so he can ascend to “World’s Richest DJ” status is a real piece of dirt in the shadows of people who take their creative process more seriously. Born in the Echoes is a refreshing reminder that some can still cast such a shadow.