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The Chemical Brothers: Further
On Further , their seventh studio release, the Chemical Brothers have tapped into their own brand of pensive eloquence. The brief eight-track album takes listeners beyond audio: each of the songs is accompanied by graphically enhanced videos, featuring British acress Romola Garai. Like the sounds that they illustrate, the videos build on a central, evolving concept rather than a linear message.
Notably, this is the first album that the British electronica duo Tom Rowlands and Ed Simmons have produced without big-name vocal guests. Vocals are performed by Rowlands and singer Stephanie Dosen, who has worked with Massive Attack in the past. This makes Further a project of intense introspection, whose composite electro audio quality waxes philosophical throughout.
The Chemical Brothers have returned to their purist electronica roots to prove that they can create some real magic using their own devices. You might think that this would simplify their sound; but instead, the album portrays some unprecedented complexity: it takes some serious focus and listening muscle to fully appreciate the sophistication of the audio layers.
The album opens with ‘Snow,' where an electronic pulse is layered with Dosen’s wispy vocals singing ‘Your love keeps lifting me/Lifting me higher’. The song revolves around a single, repeated statement. The sound swells gradually, with drones, electric fuzz sound effects and multiplying vocal harmonies.
‘Another World’ features accordion sounds and a kick-drum beat. The track relies on a formulaic melancholy, stretched vocals and busy audio layers. The nearly six-minute song crescendos dramatically, with intermittent pulses of pulled-back silence, until it fades.
‘Dissolve’ features some classic rock rhythms, and takes you through nearly five minutes of swelling instrumental melody before the sparse, single-phrase lyrics chime in for a few beats. It could be haunting if its underlying sentiment weren’t so sunny.
Furthermore, some entirely instrumental tracks such as ‘Escape Velocity’ play out like the soundtrack to an early 90s Nintendo game.
Rowlands’ and Simmons’ quirky and sporadic sense of humour is still intact; evidenced by the sound effects of ‘Horsepower’, in which a recording sample of a neighing of a horse is looped over a nearly indecipherably altered voice. Heavy with electric effects and off-kilter samples (keyboard, beeps, grinds and drones), the Chemical Brothers shine again by producing something almost soulful out of otherwise synthetic-sounding noise.
Further takes us on a brief journey of sound exploration; before we can really decide if we like it, the eight-track line-up is over, leaving us adjusting to the un-retouched noises of reality.
The Chemical Brothers still possess their knack for manipulating sound and taking us places, but we can’t quite figure out where this one went. Maybe another listen will help us decide.
One of the shortest tracks on the album is ‘DMT Song’. Created with the help of bassist/vocalist, Thundercat, it is the most vocally dense song on the record. Slow and dreamy, with high-pitched, slightly dissonant, vocals, it's a good intro to the next track, ‘The Nightcaller’. Aptly titled, this song features a groovy dance bass underneath a synthesizer melody that sounds ideal for waving your arms around on the dance floor.
‘Getting There’, with vocals by Niki Randa, is reminiscent of Massive Attack. Not only because of the elongated vocals, but the muffled bass beat and dreamy bell sounds could certainly also have spawned from the brains of 3D and Daddy G. The same goes for ‘Hunger’; a song that sounds like it was recorded underwater and also features Randa. Its spacious melody is broken up by a bridge with echoing vocals and harpsichord-like keyboards.
Erykah Badu is the only vocalist to appear on the album that Flying Lotus hasn’t worked with previously. Her vocals work really well on the African sounding track ‘See Thru To U’ - hopefully, Badu will become incorporated into Ellison’s fixed team of vocalists.
‘Putty Boy Strut’ sounds like a broken toy gone mental, with a catchy musical theme that returns in the deeper layers of ‘Me Yesterday/Corded’.
‘Electric Candyman’ features vocals by Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, and is a slow track with male and female vocal melodies mixed together in a way that almost sounds disorienting. Yorke’s voice is hardly recognisable, which seems like a waste considering his great, and highly distinguishable, vocal abilities.
Dutch producer, Tijs Michiel Verwest – who you’ll know better as Tiësto – has become a household name throughout his career as one of the best trance producers, constantly flirting with the line between artistically good and crowd pleasing. His latest release, A Town Called Paradise, unfortunately, goes miles beyond that line.
The album features an impressive 18 tracks, 15 of which feature vocalists. Some of the best produced albums benefit from a stable, underlying theme, but not to the point where you can’t distinguish songs from each other, as is with the case with A Town Called Paradise.
There’s very little trance to be heard on the album, if any at all. If you were a fan of the In Search of Sunrise series, or any of Tiësto albums, you’re in for disappointment.
The first four tracks of the album, including the title track, are absolutely indistinguishable from any other EDM you would hear on the radio; abrasive synthesizers, meaningless chorus, throw your hands in the air and wait for the drop.
‘Written in Reverse’ is the first track on the album that indulges, using a very short electro-like hook that is over faster than you can realise what happened. The next song, ‘Echoes’, featuring singer Andreas Moe, who you may recognise from Avicii’s ‘Fade Into Darkness’ and utilises more electro influences, but is quite short-lived.
It really doesn’t get much better from there. Actually, saying it “doesn’t get much better” implies it was decent at some point which is a big fat lie. It’s horrendous. You’re constantly listening to cheesy EDM lines followed by awful, noisy drops. There is little musical value, and little to distinguish any of the tracks from each other. Diving into specific songs seems a little redundant, besides maybe ‘Rocky’, which sounds suspiciously similar to Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’, and ‘Shimmer’, featuring returning singer Christian Burns, who you’ll remember from Tiesto’s ‘In the Dark’ or Armin Van Buuren’s ‘This Light Between Us’.
Disappointing and, quite frankly, tedious, A Town Called Paradise is not just a mindless crowd-pleaser, but an exasperating and often irritating one. If you’re a fan of regurgitated, sub-par music and lyrics, this is the album and artist for you. We want that hour of our lives back.