ew artists, if any, are able to endure the ravages that time takes on their careers. Nobody is happy when a group turns up an album full of self-plagiarism, nor are they overly enamoured when an artist’s evolution fails to impress. These issues are only exacerbated within the genres of electronic music, where making a great album - let alone a number of them – is seen as a task in itself.
It is for these very reasons that the latest album from the Chemical Brothers puts forward a compelling case for being considered not just one of the year’s best albums, but also one of the storied duos most compelling works.
Despite some regrettable missteps in the mid 2000’s (looking at Salmon Dance in particular), the British duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons have still built a reputation as one of electronic music’s most consistently impressive acts. The duo announced themselves in the mid 90’s as a pioneer of big beat, a genre melding rock and club electronica together with punchy, sample-heavy works. Since then their work has bridged multiple electronic genres, dabbling in acid house and techno on 2005’s Push the Button, before 2007’s attempt at ruining it all with the pop-culture (the bad aspects of it) influenced We Are the Night.
Thankfully No Geography is the third album this decade where the duo have continued their redemptive arc and displayed the sort of consistency necessary to be considered amongst the all time greats.
The raucous ‘dance to me’ effervescence of opener Eve of Destruction devolves beautifully into the funk heavy beat of Bango in a way that few electronic artists beyond The Avalanches have ever been daring enough to attempt in such a complete manner. The fact that the Chem Brothers come closer than many to replicating the Australian groups mastery of seamless movement between songs is something that cannot be understated.
Pleasingly the Chem Brothers’ similarities with The Avalanches aren’t merely confined to song transitions. The duo are also seemingly influenced by the Australian groups reliance on disparate musical sampling that gives even the strangest of sounds reverence within a track, not to be confused with the classic overproduction that has dogged so many producers in the modern age.
Every element in these songs has its place, from the looped vocals to the sample that lasts all but a moment. Listening for the tidbits makes each track as exciting as the last, the way in which they are woven together so solidly only adding to the wonder.
Yet it is not just the varied nature of sampling that gives this album such pleasing cohesiveness, with the Chem Brothers addictive beat making giving this an ‘album-for-all-occasions’ feel. Got to Keep On channels echoed vocals and background voice samples to deliver one of the albums catchiest pieces of electronica, Free Yourself pairs upbeat funk with repetitive sampling and pronounced drums, while “MAH” [Mad as Hell] transports the listener to the very best kind of laser-filled warehouse rave.
For all its sampling grandeur and addictive funk, the albums most compelling moments lie with its subtler takes. Catch Me I’m Falling moves beyond merely an album closer to be considered one of No Geography’s most well made songs. The album's title track however, remains this uncompromising pieces’ most impressionable creation. Employing some of the most euphoric synths the Chem Brothers have ever utilised, its ability to fuse strong sampling with beautifully simplistic beats make it one of 2019’s best made songs.
No Geography is nothing if raucous, no holds barred fun. Its selling points are its unexpected nature and perfect variety, it's detractions, essentially non-existent. It is a testament to the Chem Brothers enduring artistic quality that they are able to release a project of such consistency and quality almost a quarter of a century after they first began.