The Chemical Brothers Make a Triumphant Return After Five Years With ‘Born in the Echoes’: Album Review
In The Chemical Brothers' world, it's always 1997. Dig Your Own Hole, the commercial breakthrough of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons' long-running electronic-dance partnership, came out ages ago by the rapidly progressing standards of club music, but their sound was preserved in amber at the moment of its release. Their eighth studio album (and first in five years), Born in the Echoes, is electrifying, tightly constructed big beat the way they've always done it: with pop-like song structures, marquee guest vocalists and scarcely a hint of dubstep, trap or, really, any developments in the past 15 years of dance music. Even the Brothers' logo has stayed the same.
Fortunately, their greatest strength -- integrating the abrasive tone-bending and mesmeric repetition of EDM into the context of hooks and melodies -- is exceptionally durable. One advantage of DJ'ing for several decades is that the duo knows how to sequence a set, and Echoes flows like a great night at a club, cresting and plummeting and twisting into its weirdest passages before cooling down with the beatless "Radiate." Even the chirping Depeche Mode-style synthesizers that accompany Beck's sleepy vocal on the concluding "Wide Open" are like the dawn's light seeping through club doors.
At this point, the Brothers are effectively historians, and the album's most thrilling moments are often references to their own past or inspirations. Q-Tip's party-starting, "Rapper's Delight"-quoting performance on "Go" reunites the team that made 2005 Grammy winner "Galvanize." "Under Neon Lights" features St. Vincent's Annie Clark impressively evoking Talking Heads' Remain in Light, with fluttering electronics swarming around stacked-up layers of her voice. The jolting edits and sibilant, trebly beats of "Just Bang" are straight out of the Todd Terry Project's playbook. "And I'll See You There" isn't just Simons and Rowlands paraphrasing the groove of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" -- it's a callback to when The Chemical Brothers did the same thing on Dig Your Own Hole's "Setting Sun," and a reminder of how sturdily they built the foundations of their work.
This story originally appeared in the July 25 issue of Billboard.