With 25 years of production experience, The Chemical Brothers stand alongside Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder as legacy acts placed in the intriguing position of possibly inventing the wheel in dance music—yet again. Whether you favor "Block Rockin Beats," "Hey Boy Hey Girl," "Galvanize," "It Began In Afrika" or any of their other electronica age, break-laden classics, the Chemical Brothers' impact on the history of dance music is both unquestionable and iconic. However, with their eighth studio album Born in the Echoes, it may be time to forget history with the Chemical Brothers. Instead, we should consider that this album doesn't so much define their legacy as inform the future of what lies beyond EDM.
Yes, you read that right. An album curiously titled Born in the Echoes might have some answers about where mainstream dance music can go now that we've entered the post-EDM era. (Thanks David Guetta/Steve Aoki putting the nail in that coffin at Tomorrowland, by the way.) The echoes of this latest Chemical Brothers album hearkens back to the last time dance music and culture was ever this big: the early 2000s, when the Chemical Brothers became one of the most important dance acts in the world by taking their sound from countryside raves and Ibiza nights to a Grammy-winning soundtrack for the globally exploding and Madchester-birthed scene (and yes, video games and films, too). As well, the duo's songs went from being heavily sample-driven to being voiced by the hottest mainstream pop stars of the era.
More than anything else, this is an album that's driven by a club-ready feel. May 5 saw the premiere of "Go," a single the featured A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip rapping over its funky breaks. More Manhattan's Danceteria in 1985 than Atlanta's Magic City in 2015, it's a proper breakdancing anthem, signaling that instead of turning up, it could be time to do a modern take on the electric boogaloo instead. Regarding a race back to the dancefloor, it's a toss up between DJs being bold enough to rinse tracks like "Go" in the club versus this album's ability to climb the Billboard charts that will determine whether or not acid funk can remove trap's grip from the most mainstream presentations of dance music at-present.
It's possible that Born in the Echoes will do for techno and electro funk what Daft Punk's Random Access Memories did for disco. However, in the Belleville Three not being on this album, we're missing the massive expectations that come along with Daft Punk working with disco progenitors Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers. Sans hype, in being allowed to somewhat slide under the mainstream pop radar, this actually benefits how fresh tracks like Ali Love-feature "EML Ritual," the computerized industrial clang of "Just Bang" and the Kraftwerk-style groove of the magnificent "Reflexion" feel. In not expecting to be sold a pair of adidas sneakers with these songs as the soundtrack, there's a revolutionary underground feel that should inspire kids in warehouses, just like Daft Punk gave us all the collective feeling like being transported to Studio 54 in 1979 was just a bass guitar lick away.
In continuing the Daft Punk vein of thought that extends to Born in the Echoes, the appearances of Beck (on plaintive keyboard and synth ballad "WIde Open") and St. Vincent (on thumping and spiraling techno breakdown "Under Neon Lights") here—just as Julian Casablancas of The Strokes and Panda Bear from Animal Collective appeared on Random Access Memories—may mean that we're welcoming pop-friendly rock into dance once again. Triple this with recent news of Arcade Fire sharing a Montreal studio with Jack Ü , and this is definitely a movement worth watching.
For as much as we so often attempt to coax the answers for what lies beyond from the present and the future, we're currently in the midst of an era where the past is more present than ever before. Stepping into a space most recently occupied by Daft Punk and disco, The Chemical Brothers have smoothly spotlighted three decades of electro funk grooves with an eye on the future of the dancefloor. In opening the conversation for how mainstream dance music can be guided by unique takes on pop as well as 303s instead of 808s, the potential outcomes are innumerable. Whether that conversation will have staying power has yet to be decided, but insofar as representing a blueprint for possible success, Born in the Echoes unquestionably excels.
Born in the Echoes is out now on Astralwerks
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