When artists shake up their status quo, it can be a sign of rejuvenation or a sign that they’re desperate to stay relevant. In the case of Further, the new release from The Chemical Brothers, it is the former. In a bold move, their new album contains just eight songs and no featured guest stars. Relying only on themselves (and a sparingly used female vocalist), the duo has crafted one of their best albums in years and an experience best enjoyed as a whole.
The album opens with “Snow,” a track that is essentially a five-minute warm-up for what’s to come. Electronic sounds gently skitter in and out of the track as the repeated vocals of Stephanie Dosen singing “your love keeps lifting me” and “lifting me higher” play. The track starts to build as the bass and other synths kick in. You expect that things will build towards some massive drums but it never happens.
Instead, the repeated vocals spill over into the beginning of the epic, 12-minute-long “Escape Velocity.” This is when things really get going. “Escape Velocity” is a textbook example of how to structure a dance track for maximum effect. It takes its time to build to each crescendo with nearly two minutes passing before you hear any drums. There is enough variety peppered in the track that things never feel too repetitive. One part of particular note is the intense, rocket ship-esque buildup that happens nearly eight minutes in. By the end of the track, things cool off and the Brothers let you down easy.
The dreamy “Another World” is the next track up. Built on a wonderful sample from “Santa Fe” by Krazy Kat, this song glides on wavy synths and more simple, repeated vocals from Dosen. The comparative mellowness of “Another World” leads right into “Dissolve,” a pure Chemical Brothers track if ever there was one. The combination of the duo’s psychedelic elements with more of a rock edge makes it feel like a lost track from one of their earlier albums. There also seems to be some strong influences from bands like The Who.
“Horse Power” is one of the harder-hitting tracks on the album and also one with a sense of humor. Even though it is a strong, pulse-pounding slice of techno, you can’t help but laugh when hearing the sound of a horse whinnying. “Swoon” has an underlying sweetness to it that makes it appealing. The opening strains where we first hear simple vocals repeat “Just remember to fall in love / There’s nothing else” sound like they could work in the right romantic movie. The song never feels sappy or light and finds a nice middle ground.
“K+D+B” is an intriguing track, in part, because of the percussion. Live drums and drum machines mingle together so well early on that a minimalist take would bring no complaints. The album concludes with “Wonders of The Deep,” an interesting track that sounds like the Coldplay collaboration that never was. It hits the perfect closing note for the album as its final electronic beeps fade into nothing.
Further is a turning point for the Chemical Brothers. They could have easily pumped out another good album featuring a trendy English vocalist, a rapper, a dreamy-voiced female singer, and one or two new greatest hits. Instead, they tried for something fresher and more substantial and succeeded. It’s not without its flaws as “Snow” could have been shorter and “Horse Power” becomes skippable after a few listens. However, this is the first album in years that could truly belong with the likes of Exit Planet Dust, Dig Your Own Hole, and Surrender as one of the best albums of the duo’s lengthy career. For those who have written off The Chemical Brothers in recent years, here is your new jumping-on point.