In their new album, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (aka the Brothers Chemical) venture deeper down into the cave of creativity to discover a new species of groove. Gone are the days of Schooly D samples and multiple track names ending with 'beats,' being replaced by something much more mature and robust. Listening to the new album Surrender, I get a sense of style, something new, and, perhaps most importantly, a feeling of flow. Where their first two albums seemed like a collection of cuts that kicked ass, Surrender is a full-fledged album, thematically and aurally travelling from one track to the next. After giving it a few listens it's clear to me that this is an album that is meant to be played from begin to end (preferably Loud as well).
A close Chemical follower will be able to tell that this album is a departure for the Brothers just without even popping the disc in the player. For the first time, ever, the Chems have a piece of art for a cover. EVERY previous release (excluding the 'Hey Boy, Hey Girl' single that was released a few weeks prior to this) sports a seemingly random photograph on the cover. Those days are over. Even the Freestyle Dust logo is different, signifying a new era in the entity that is Chemical Brothers music.
Aurally as well as visually, the "new" sound is immediately different. From the first whirr and sputter of 'Music: Response,' we know we're in for something different. Is it different to the point of unrecognizable? Have the Chems become the next in a line that includes Ministry and Underworld? Not in my opinion. Like David Bowie (but without his voice), Tom & Ed have managed to still leave that characteristic chemical taste in our mouths while serving different recipies (Albeit the flavor is more prominent in some dishes over others).
In what started as some of the best tracks off 'Exit Planet Dust,' guest vocalists give Rowlands and Simons a sense of purpose in their music. With 'Life is Sweet's initial success and the inherent beauty in 'Alive Alone,' Tim Burgess and Beth Orton helped to transform the Chems (then called the Dust Brothers) from "just another Brit DJ duo" into "the Frontrunners of the New Music Revolution" (at least here in the US where we embrace original music about as fast as the service we get in Dennys). The song that truly put them in the eyes and ears of every MTV-watching fool was due, in large part, to guest vocals by Noel Gallagher, whining about a Setting Sun or some such thing. Well, this trend of vocalists has certainly not stopped with 'Surrender.' Bernard Sumner of New Order, Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, and Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev all make appearances on choice cuts of the album, giving nearly half the album a voice.
So Tom and Ed have definitely moved on past 'Leave Home' and 'Block Rockin Beats' to a place very different than where they started. It's obvious however, that their trip is not yet complete. A few tracks on this album, while they are very good, are missing something. It sounds like it's on the brink of perfection, but not quite there yet. There are some gems, and others that remain rough and uneven. While I'm impressed with the whole album, I can understand a non-chemical brothers-enthusiast being a bit miffed with a few of the songs. 'Surrender', more so than their previous two, is not for everyone. It strikes some (such as me) as great while it leaves others with nothing.
Here's my track by track synopsis:
Music: Response: A quirky krafterk-ian track that makes a good introduction. Here we get a nice groove supplanted under a multitudes of beeps and clicks. The heavily vocoded "Music. Response. Music. Response. Music. Repsone. Music that triggers some kind of response." Layers in and out of the foray, creating that Chemical Brothers feel. The beeps get seemingly random at one point, which is sure to stretch the limits of most sometimes-techno fans out there.
Under the Inflluence: A wonderfully claustrophobic and frantic track that really gets the blood pumpin and the booty groovin. The sample "I was under the influence" serves as a gatekeeper to high-pitched gated squeals and a DEEP bass that comes out and makes you move. This is definitely a track to turn up.
Out of Control: Bernard Sumner's foray into chemical being. While it does sound off key at parts, or like he's singing to a different song, it's still a great track that builds and releases, builds and release. It's one of those tracks to play really loud when you're cleaning and just belt out your rendition along with Bernard, since it's a very loose fit anyway.
Orange Wedge: A nice mellow piece that's almost made to be forgotten. Postioned in between Sumner's 'Out of Control' and Gallagher's 'Let Forever Be,' this track serves as a cleansing of the palatte. Just like Sorbet it's sweet and smooth. From the gentle rocking beat to the "singing" synth, this track actually stands out for me as another characteristically great Chemical Brothers chilldown track.
Let Forever Be: Noel Gallagher's second collaboration with Tom & Ed. Somewhat in the same vein as 'Setting Sun' butů well.. much more wack. If it's one track that one wont like on this album, it's going to be this. I find it growing on me personally, but it's still an odd choice for their new single.
The Sunshine Underground: Easily the standout track of this album. Remember 'The Private Psychadelic Reel'? Well this is the new equivalent. Ironic enough however, the first two minutes of this track are flat and go nowhere (just like the last two minutes of Reel). Since it's an eight minute track I can forgive it, but the first two minutes just pale in comparison to the excellence that is the last six. This is the track to turn the lava lamp on to and spin around in circles with your headphones on.
Asleep From Day: This track actually sounds more like a Mazzy Star song than a Chemical Brothers song. Sandoval's voice is whispy and turns me on (as always), and the lazy organ/guitar accentuate her very well. Only hints of chemical goodness here, with Hope taking most of the glory.
Got Glint?: Like 'Orange Wedge,' I get a strong transition vibe from this track. Going from the ultra-mellow of 'Asleep From Day' to the housey goodness of 'Hey Boy, Hey Girl,' this song is "supposed" to be filler. However, this is probably my second favorite track after The Sunshine Underground. The funky synth riff coupled with the odd beat make this track quirky and fun, much like 'Playground for a Wedgelss Firm.' The lyrics are great too (heh heh). Light, Airy, fun, one of the more well-rounded tracks on the album. Ace!
Hey Boy, Hey Girl: The first track I heard off this album, giving a sample from Rockmaster Scott the traditional ChemBros treatment but also keeping the grooves going. This track is heavier though, the bass is deeper and the 303 pattern thumpin. Definitely more house than usual, causing voluminous amounts of bootygroove. Plus it has a small guitar riff that strongly resembles the kickass part from Meat Beat Manifesto's 'Prime Audio Soup.' Both great tracks in my opinion
Surrender: The track that tells you it's about to end. Another light, happy foray into electronic music, much like 'Orange Wedge' and 'Got Glint?' Not as aggressive as 'Under the Influence' or 'Hey Boy Hey Girl,' but definitely not as trippy as 'The Sunshine Underground,' this track radiates a very strong Happy vibe. Plus it's got a theme that always reminds me of Sesame Street.
Dream On: The end track that's usually reserved for Beth Orton is replaced with Donahue's melancholy vocalization. The Chems do a good job here of treating his voice, much like Fatboy Slim's treatment of 'Praise You.' Overall a good track to end the album as you drift off to sleep.