February 7, 2002

Oh, Brother

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Psychedelic meets techno pop. Think Goa Trance meets Basement Jaxx. 18 months holed up in a South England studio and the notorious Brothers of techno-punk emerge with this bizarre but infectious fusion of sounds and styles. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, the duo that make up the Chemical Brothers, are renowned for their quirky beats and disorienting sounds. Their latest collaboration is yet another example of the off beat rhythms that have allowed them their unquestionable cult status in England.

The characteristic sound effects and eery fusion of Oakenfoldish basses and psychedelic screams, drawls, and acoustics merge infectiously if somewhat unoriginally in 10 tracks, mixed to guarantee Brothers’ fans uncompromisingly familiar tunes. “It Began in Afrika,” their first released single off the album is a thunderous mix of obnoxious beats which takes at least three listens for the ironically obvious tribal element to kick in. Though slow to start, the song merges into the contagious and unparalleled “Galaxy Quest” — the kind of song that brings the catchy rhythms of “Setting Sun” and “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” to mind.

Despite this lack of creative genius, the album can take pride in the fact that it doesn’t depend on the collaborative talents of Noel Gallager and other singers and DJ’s to make the songs work, proving perhaps that the talents of Tom and Ed are skilled enough to carry an entire album on their efforts alone. “Star Guitar” exemplifies the sound of the duo at their best, with its haunting melody emerging from what can only be imagined to be a drug induced array of beats. The lush rhythms of this song allow the Brothers to display a different talent, one that can be lauded as much for its subtle undertones as its frenzied clubby bass-lines.

That said, the demonic shouts and bangs of “My Elastic Eye” are interspersed with the oddly quiet tapping of a piano — rather like Bach being blasted by the ferocious thumping of a subway. If that doesn’t intrigue fans, then one only has to listen to “The State We’re In” to experience a Ritalin high slowed down to an agonizing crawl — think annoying peppy voice of a teen star (be creative and guess) vengefully slowed down to a hazy drawl.

Needless to say, this album was perhaps intended for die-hard fans — those used to and appreciative of the mystifying and abruptly changing pace of their sound. From the strangely beautiful harmonies of the acoustic guitar in “Hoops” to the incorrigible non-human voice in “Demark” (telling us repeatedly, “We will never be the same”), the album is an unquestionable journey into the terrain of hyper beats and quirky air-chilling melodies. The album works, perhaps more for the unexpectedly chill harmonies than the sirens and synthesizers that reverberate with annoying frequency through most other “techno” albums.

Archived article by Tara Kilachand