The Chemical Brothers' seventh studio album marks a return to their original form in a lot of ways: psychedelic swirls, four-on-the-floor beats, the absence of vocals by all-star guests. But "Further" (Freestyle Dust/Astralwerks, June 22) is also a concept-driven multimedia experience that aims to expand how their fans engage with their work using, in part, the multiweek iTunes Pass program.
"They really wanted to throw out the rule book and present their music in a different way," Astralwerks GM Glenn Mendlinger says.
Production partners Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, who have worked together for 16 years, enjoyed a sizable hit with 2005's "Galvanize." The pair's collaboration with Q-Tip peaked at No. 3 on the U.K. singles chart, backed a Budweiser Select ad campaign and won a Grammy Award for best dance recording. The album that spawned the single, "Push the Button," won the Grammy for best electronic/dance album.
But the eight tracks featured on "Further" more closely resemble the Chemical Brothers' first wave of work: the bombastic, electronic sounds that launched the Big Beat mini-movement of the mid-'90s. In another nod to the duo's origins, the tracks were conceived alongside matching visual shorts created by longtime Chems visualists Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall.
Since the act burst onto the live scene in 1994, Smith and Lyall have conceived the group's accompanying images. The combination of trippy sights and sounds has made the act one of the top festival draws in the world. But its work on "Further" is "a lot more filmic and epic," Mendlinger says. "It's what you'd see at a classic electronic show but so much more widescreen. It has a beginning and an end."
Rowlands and Simons wanted to keep the entire experience-aural and visual-as unified as possible. "The strategy was to contain the music as long as they could, tease out the visuals and then present in full regalia," Mendlinger says. After servicing white labels of album cut "Escape Velocity" to a limited group of club DJs and tastemakers, and distributing the music and video for first single "Swoon" to press and digital outlets, the Chemical Brothers premiered the whole show during a four-night stint at London's 3,300-capacity Roundhouse, starting May 20.
To keep things similarly in check at retail, the band is using the iTunes Pass program. Designed for career artists with a dedicated fan base and a good amount of original material supporting a new album, the Pass allows fans to buy not only the album but also a spate of exclusive rarities, rolled out across multiple weeks.
For $12.99, Chems disciples will receive four weeks of fresh content. The rollout begins June 8 with a 51-minute film representing all the music and visuals, nonindexable to ensure that fans watch it in order as intended. That will be followed June 15 by a 20-minute "making of" documentary; the official release of the entire album June 22, including an extensive image gallery; and an unreleased track, "Pourquoi," June 29.
The Chems will hit the United States for a two-week, big-venue tour, headlining the Hollywood Bowl Aug. 29 and New York festival Electric Zoo Sept. 4. And according to their manager Robert Linney, the duo will be back on the road next year. "Without giving the game away," Linney says, "the plan is to appear at the more obvious festivals in 2011."