MAY: No Geography by The Chemical Brothers

 

Time was when you could bank on a new Chemical Brothers album every few years, like a gift transported from some muddy field or mega rave somewhere in the UK right to your cranium. They have spent the last two and half decades making music that often assaulted the senses, and live they’re an act that not only cracks your eardrums, but imprints images in your head that you may not always want to remember: their visuals are memorable, and often overwhelming. Just look at the video above (and add it to Do It Again (Live) for starters) and you get the picture. However, much as I love their music and have never had a Chems album that I’ve not liked, after 2010’s Born In The Echoes (itself a comparatively long five years after 2010’s Further) I wasn’t sure we’d even get another record from them.

Ed left them as a live outfit in 2015, and though visual collaborator Adam Smith admirably filled in – they were still incredible at Glastonbury in 2015, where I buzzed to them in their traditional Sunday night Other Stage slot – it felt like it may be the end of a road for a band that pretty much taught me how to dance in a field. In fact as a band, they’ve pretty much soundtracked – like anyone else of *cough* a certain age – my entire raving lifespan. Exit Planet Dust came out a whopping 24 (yes, TWENTY FOUR) years ago, but it blew my socks off then and still sounds absolutely crisp and fresh as it did then. Named after their previous Dust Brothers moniker (they reputedly nicked it from Beastie Boys producers, never thinking they’d ever be successful enough for it to matter) the album introduced us to many Chemical Brothers staples: acid 303s, growling leads, huge drum fills, sampled vocals, guitar licks and whooshing, discombobulating sounds and melodies. It wasn’t all eye-popping peak-time bangers though, because they have also made a name making more blissed-out tracks (see One Too Many Mornings from that very album) and seeking out collaborations with artists that fitted their unique template.

I say unique ironically, as one criticism through their hugely successful career has been an accusation – lazy, in my opinion –  that they keep making the same record or that they’re unoriginal. I think that would be on firmer ground if a) anyone else consistently sounded like them and b) there wasn’t the great variation within their sound across all their albums. Some of the songs I most love from the last 30 years of electronic music (and that I still own on vinyl) are from the Chems: It Began In Afrika, Come With Us, The Golden Path, Hey Boy Hey Girl, Chemical Beats Out Of Control and The Private Psychedelic Reel (god, I’m getting nostalgic here) and of course their enduring work with Q-Tip, Galvanize and Go (two of my favourite tracks). They sounded amazing, their videos were groundbreaking (I still love watching Hey Boy, and thinking ‘oh, I used to dance there’) and live they were almost unrivalled in the electronic music scene. I’ve seen them live half a dozen times, and they’ve never disappointed. Though I still wish I’d been to Red Rocks.

So the news that Ed was back and a new album was coming left me with mixed feelings. Was it going to be up to their standard? And if not, should you bow out gracefully? We’re not getting any younger, and it’s a long time since we were freewheeling hedonists in the 90s and 00s. Of course, i shouldn’t have worried. Even if there is a little of the law of diminishing returns in play, a few listens to No Geography and it feels like slipping on an old pair of jeans. And I still get that Proustian rush back to some memorable live experiences as soon as those familiar sounds fill the ears. The fact they’ve made it with just the kit from their early albums feels a nice pushback against the over-compressed, quantized, perfectly melodic electronic music we’ve been bred into these days.

I hope it gets them some new fans too. I know they’re touring, and I know I’ll want to go. And part of me feels a bit sad that younger crew today won’t get to hear Hey Boy Hey Girl for the first time back when, and this ‘what the FUCK it this’? Whatever you may think of them, few have lasted as long as they have, and there’s a reason for that.

But more importantly, what do you think?

5 comments

  1. misterstory

    What a belting write up Guy. Seriously. Thanks for putting that out there for us, it is appreciated. It’s not like you don’t have a few things on your plate either.

    As we discussed on the app-of-what, the Chems (sorry feeling lazy) where always a singles band for me. The albums never really captured my attention. There was always obvious weak links that I wanted to skip and a skip turned into not bothering so they became playlist fodder for me … and what fodder. The singles mentioned are amazing, plus others like Electrobank, Star Guitar … the list is so long!

    So. I was interested when reviews of the new album started to point towards something of a complete proper album and then David suggested it and Guy jumped on it. And glad that he did too. I love it. For me, it is the most end-to-end complete album I’ve heard of theirs (and I am missing some to be fair). It has stronger tracks than others but no weak links for me. The first time I had it on I was in the kitchen on the big speaker (I wasn’t banned to my headphones) Stacey came in and said ‘oh no, here he goes’ as one of the builders was building nicely and about break down into another huge beat. I was all smiles and terrible dad-cooking-dancing.

    The only thing that limits it a little for me is that I can’t work with it on and I can’t listen to it in the evening as I won’t sleep! So it’s gym music for me and battling with Little Simz for air play.

    Great album. Great choice. I am sure it will be sticky too.

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      That’s a nice response brother Joseph. I just didn’t realise it was out as I’m so out of the loop at the moment with music, I’m just happy it came up. I would’ve taken a new Chems album every week of the year.

      I think it’s a really good album as an entity in itself, with some belting singles – MAH, Eve Of Destruction, No Geography – but it does well well, it’s really nicely programmed. It’s not going up there with Exit Planet Dust or Come With Us, but it’s not far off.

      I get that it’s not ‘working’ music, but it’s good gym stuff, as is Little Simz. Bosh!

  2. nolankane706

    Very much as you, I too have always put the Chemical Brothers in the basket of great singles and that’s it. In the past I have given their albums a chance but have never been bowled over. I’ve been banging out MAH for a few months now but had no interest in exploring this album for the mentioned reason. What a mistake that was!

    This album is a monster. I love how they go in hard from the start with acid funk, and keep it moving. The idea of having the first three songs roll into one is fantastic. On my first listen I did have a moment when I thought ‘how long is this first track?’. With that I almost wish they would have done this for the entire album.

    This album is versatile and not too much, one downfall that I found with previous albums. It goes in strong, bats the pants off of you and then cools you down on the back end.

    My continued listening to this album has given me mixed emotions to stand out tracks and filler. The more I listen I think there isn’t very much filler. Most songs are solid. As Joey has mentioned, some of the builds are amazing. I have been listening to this in the morning in my headphones when I’m working out and there area allot of first pumps.

    This is a fantastic surprise. Good pick brother Guy!

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      Yes! Another good response. I was sure you’d like it mate.

      I didn’t realise MAH was out as a single yet, but it’s my favourite ‘rave’ record on here. It’s really REALLY big. It’s seriously making me consider seeing them (again) in Oct in MCR.

      I like the fact they made this with their old kit. It sounds like it was made in 2000, and good for it.

  3. David Allison

    Firstly, let me apologise beyond all measure for my lateness. Surely the latest I’ve ever responded. Sorry, I’ve been working on a show since Feb and it’s been a bit intense. Anyway, here we go!

    Well, this is a bit of a belter, isn’t it? It’s a proper pot pourri of styles, and yet all of it is classic Chemical Brothers. We talk a lot on this blog about what makes something feel fresh and new, or an old rehash of old ideas. Been thinking about that when listening to this. I mean, there is nothing NEW about what they’re doing – and many of these tracks could easily have appeared on any of their albums of the last (gulp) 20 years.

    So why does it work? Is it just commitment and energy? This rocks from beginning to end, there’s no sense that they’re phoning it in. It’s got a bit of edge and it never feels safe. Having said that, it’s also incredibly familiar. I mean, bloody hell, We’ve Got To Try is straight acid house!

    The other context is when and how we listen to music. Back in the day, this would have been a party album. These days, it’s a running album. How times change! That does mean I can listen to it a bit more carefully in some ways, but also, it does kind of have the same purpose – to get you going. And it sure does that – every time.

    Another thing this album got me thinking – the Chems were always at the psychedelic end of dance music, which is one of the reasons I like their work a lot more than some of their contemporaries. There are loads of moments on this record that feel psychy and trippy and not just four to the floor, particularly tracks like The Universe Sent Me. “I cave in” indeed.

    If I have any downsides, it’s that I wonder if I’ll be returning to this for years. Will it fade into the collection alongside many other albums? Does it quite have enough standout tracks? Dunno. Time will tell. But for now, it’s a proper album full of proper bangers, and I really can’t ask for much more than that.

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