Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Days like this are sweet

The Chemical Brothers

Whether I am in the mood for big bombastic beats or aggro-beat psychedelic electronic fun, The Chemical Brothers always fill me up.

A Brief History of the Group (from Yahoo! Music): When the duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons decided to supplement their DJ careers by turning their bedrooms into recording studios, they pioneered a style of music (later termed big beat) remarkable for its lack of energy loss from the dancefloor to the radio. Chemical Brothers albums were less collections of songs and more hourlong journeys, chock full of deep bomb-studded beats, percussive breakdowns, and effects borrowed from a host of sources. All in all, the duo proved one of the few exceptions to the rule that intelligent dance music could never be bombastic or truly satisfying to the seasoned rock fan; it's hardly surprising that they were one of the few dance acts to enjoy simultaneous success in the British/American mainstream and in critical quarters. (Read more about them)

My History with the Group: When I posted about Underworld, I wrote about the "electronica revolution" of the mid-90s, a revolution which had far less impact on the nation than Rolling Stone had predicted. But it did change the panorama of my musical landscape, and one long-term benefit of this non-revolution was that I fell in love with The Chemical Brothers.

In late 1996, I was living in Chicago, and I heard about The Chemical Brothers. I had heard their new song "Setting Sun" which featured Noel Gallagher from Oasis. I really liked the heavy beats and techno-alternative styles of the song. (I later read that the heavy beats I liked were referred to as "big beat.") The album containing "Setting Sun" had not been released yet, so I decided to pick up their previous album Exit Planet Dust. I remember sitting at my computer chatting online when I was playing the album for the first time. From the opening sounds of the first song, "Leave Home," I was hooked. With some sampled voice repeating "The Brothers gonna work it out" combined with a kind-of rock background, I had never heard anything like this before. The song is entirely instrumental, except for the samples, and I found myself dancing in my computer chair. The album continued on, piling samples upon samples, scratches upon scratches, and huge beats upon even more huge beats. The album slowed down a bit for the psychedelic slow grooves of "Chico's Groove" and "One Too Many Mornings," but then came the next song -- oh, the next song . . . "Life is Sweet." Indeed it is. The beat of this song must be heard to be appreciated, but it also features the vocal stylings of Tim Burgess from The Charlatans UK. (I have previously mentioned Tim because he sings with Sarah on Saint Etienne's "I Was Born on Christmas Day.") Anyway, I replayed "Life is Sweet" six times in a row. I was in musical heaven. The song still makes me smile huge.

Well, after a few months, the new album, Dig Your Own Hole, was finally released, and from the powerful opener "Block Rockin' Beats" to the weirdness of "Piku," the album did not disappoint. But my best memory of this album came when I was listening to it for the first time. I was walking through Midway Airport in Chicago, and the song "Where Do I Begin" came on, with its electro-folk guitar opening and the ethereal voice of Beth Orton:
Sunday morning I'm waking up,
Can't even focus on a coffee cup.
Don't even know whose bed I'm in
Where do I start, where do I begin?
No song defines the idea of crescendo more than this one. As I was walking through the airport listening to this masterpiece, I smiled, and felt like I was in a movie.

The next album, Surrender, had more trancey beats with less focus on the big beat sound, but I absolutely loved this album. The highlight is "Out of Control" with vocals by New Order's Bernard Sumner. To this day, "Out of Control" is one of my absolute favorite songs to dance to. If you ever get the chance to see me on the dancefloor to this song, all I can say is: Watch out. I will be transported. Surrender also features another brilliant Noel Gallagher number, "Let Forever Be," which is sort of a big beat Beatlesque extravaganza. And this album also closes with a dreamy dreamlike dream song, "Dream On."

Come With Us came next, and featured a brand new batch of delicious dance craziness starring the quirky "Galaxy Bounce" and the sumblimely trance-inducing "Star Guitar." When I have danced to "Star Guitar" I have felt like I was on a musical high. The song is a bit of a celebration of ecstasy (the drug) -- which I have never done nor will I ever do -- but even drugless, I feel ecstatic when I hear it. The latest album, Push the Button, features the most rap-centered single they have released, "Galvanize," which can currently be heard in Budweiser commercials. I love the song though. And "The Boxer" is another beautiful song featuring Tim Burgess.

The Chemical Brothers also released an extraordinary "Best of" collection called Singles: 93-03 which I recommend for a good sampling. That album also features one of their most fun songs, "The Golden Path," which is a collaboration with Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips

The Brothers have not slowed down at all, and they continue to be among the most important groups in electronic music.

Favorite Chemical Brothers Album: This is very tough because it depends on my mood, but I would probably say Surrender.

Favorite Chemical Brothers Song:
"Life is Sweet"; "Out of Control"; "Where Do I Begin"

Other Seminal Chemical Brothers Songs:
"Leave Home"; "Song to the Siren"; "Elektrobank";"Piku"; "Chico's Groove"; "One Too Many Mornings"; "Alive Alone"; "Setting Sun"; "Private Psychedelic Reel"; "Block Rockin' Beats"; "Music: Response"; "Let Forever Be"; "Hey Boy Hey Girl"; "Asleep from Day"; "Dream On"; "It Began in Afrika"; "Galaxy Bounce"; "The Test"; "The Golden Path"; "Galvanize"; "The Boxer"; "Marvo Ging"; "Believe"

Past Band Posts: New Order / The Smiths / Belle and Sebastian / Underworld / R.E.M. / The Beatles / The Boo Radleys / Saint Etienne
/ Depeche Mode


At 10:39 PM, Blogger Carson posited...

"Close Your Eyes" featuring The Magic Numbers is probably my favorite Chemical Brothers track, but there really are so many good ones to choose from.

"Setting Sun" is one of those quintessential electronic music soundtrack/commercial songs. Every time I hear it, I think of an action scene in a dance club or a car chase.

These posts about you musical influences are great. They bring out all sorts of "that reminds me of" moments.

At 10:48 PM, Blogger CoachDub posited...

I do love "Close Your Eyes" as well. This may seem weird, and it's probably just me, but sometimes I think that on that track, the guy sounds like Phil Collins -- not in style mind you, just in his actual voice.

Anyway, I'm glad you like my music posts. Even though they never get many comments, they are probably my favorite posts to write.


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