New Album from The Chemical Brothers is Half Worth the Wait

After witnessing a phenomenal performance by The Chemical Brothers in the summer, I was left with two pressing questions: “Why can't dance music nowadays sound like this?” and more importantly: “Am I really getting to the age where I'm compulsively lamenting the decrepit state of dance music nowadays?” Whatever the case, the throwback vibes of the Manchester duo's set did feel like an overdue antidote to the half-assed EDM trappings of David Guano and co-posers alike. The live tour coincides with the arrival of the duo's eighth studio album, Born in the Echoes (released July 17, 2015), its title teasing a nostalgic trip to the infectious big beat swagger that defined the band's sound during the mid-90s.

But does this latest effort by the Chemical Bros deliver us from evil that is a Steve Aoki beat or absolutely anything feat. Nicky Minaj? Not entirely, I'm afraid. Born in the Echoes is something of a mixed bag: it kicks off with an energetic succession of singles, followed then by a lackluster second half that will leave you in a mild state of confusion and indifference. It is not to say that the latter songs are bad per se: the bombastic Just Bang is a cool nod to the old-school vibes of Chicago house (acid synths and all), and the album closer Wide Open is easy-going electro-pop fused by the longing vocals of guest artist Beck.

However, the musical discrepancies and haphazard sequencing of tracks add up to a sense of atonality; it is as if the album cannot decide whether it wants to tag team with the apex of ecstasy ingestion, or the groggy decline of the after-party. Furthermore, certain songs feel inescapably under-produced: the minimal Taste of Honey sounds like an outtake demo missing half of its layers, and the ethereal distortions of Radiate fail to match the emotional heights of previous anthems conjured by the band.

But let us now turn towards the things that are really great about Born in the Echoes – or more specifically its first five songs, all of which should please the prototypical aficionado of electronic music. The lead single Go took its time to win me over, but once it did, I was rather swept away by the disco-proof percussions and Q-Tip's ridiculously catchy rhymes (“No time to rest / Just do your best / What you hear is not a test!”). Sometimes I Feel Deserted and Under Neon Lights are also challenging-yet-rewarding assortments of disconcerting instrumentals, subtle build-ups and eerie vocals. Yet the true stars of the mix are the relentless club bangers: EML Ritual fuses an untoppable bass assault with some fairly nondescript lyrical poetry (“It was something someone said somewhere”), and I'll See You There glues guitars riffs, drum licks and exotic screeches into a psychedelic power bar that demands an unhealthy number of repeat listens. The latter song actually made me excited about its musical predecessor "Tomorrow Never Knows" – I think this makes it the third Beatles song I kinda like!

So there you have it: albeit wielding a deadly array of singles, Born in the Echoes falls somewhat short from becoming the messianic savior of dance music in 2015. Yet it is nevertheless a work that needs to be hailed during the heyday of computerized crap and click-bait clichés: for better and worse, The Chemical Brothers still champions the ideal of getting hammered over the weekend while dancing your ass off to music that is remotely listenable. And for that, we should salute them.