Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, a.k.a The Chemical Brothers have been producing fantastic electronic dance music since the early 90s but rarely have they achieved the giddy heights that took them to superstardom in their heyday. Yet, with No Geography they have produced an album of consistently high quality tracks to rival anything they’ve done since Surrender 20 years ago.
From the disco stomps of Eve of Destruction and Got To Keep On, to more acid infused bangers such as Free Yourself and MAH, we get track after track of classic Chems. Even the more sedate tracks don’t feel as much like fillers as they have on past albums.
Though they never really went away, let’s hope this album is the start of a renaissance rather than a last hurrah.
The Brothers are back and, boy, have they worked it out. No Geography is their ninth studio album and probably the best in nearly 20 years (that it’s been two decades since Surrender was released is now worrying me quite a bit). In order to regain their mojo Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, a.k.a The Chemical Brothers have back to their roots, giving us some absolute classic bangers along with some soulful, funky disco numbers. Whatever direction they take us on this album – and there are a few – you can’t help but feel that they enjoyed putting it together as much as I enjoyed listening to it. In case it needs clarifying, I enjoyed it a lot.
Eve Of Destruction kicks us off, a cracking disco stomp featuring some seriously funky bass, 90s-style house synths and soulful vocals. Close your eyes (and turn up the heat somewhat) and you could be back in the Haçienda, yet the track manages to maintain a distinctly modern feel to it at the same time.
There’s no pause for breath as we move seamlessly into the next track, Bango, a bongo-laden effort that continues with the funky bass and house synth themes from before. This time we are treated to a strong dose of the Chems’ trademark squelches and random add-on effects. It’s a nice call-back on previous works, but on this album I’m happy that it’s more of an occasional visitor rather than an ever-present.
Yet again, there’s no break as we are introduced to title track No Geography, a more stripped back, emotive piece that samples poet Michael Brownstein to create a heartfelt work without dropping the tempo.
Finally, the opening mix ends, but there’s still little time for rest as we are treated to recent single Got To Keep On, another euphoric house/disco work of genius that has a smattering of 70s to it and a cracking vocal sample that makes the track. Very nearly my standout track.
The pace slows slightly over the next couple of tracks, with Gravity Drops taking a more languid approach and relying heavily on drawn-out synth notes and a bubbling bass track to make it’s mark. The Universe Sent Me is a (very) slow builder, using a juicy post-punk bass line and the ethereal vocals of Norweigan singer-songwriter Aurora to take you on a journey that adds layer upon layer of sound over you until you are completely immersed in a dreamy headspace.
We’ve Got To Try features some yummy deep acid notes and twisted synths alongside some funky soul, with olny the slower tempo stopping it from being a proper stomper.
But now we enter classic Chems territory. Firstly we have single Free Yourself, featuring an arpeggiating synth line, acid working away in the background and the occasional full-on sonic assault, all tied together by a simple vocal loop. Majestic.
This paves the way for MAH, a proper old-skool acid-techno banger that will have any dancefloor anywhere throwing their hands in the air in rapture. It’s proper rave material that makes me smile whenever I listen to it (and that’s been quite a lot recently).
Catch Me I’m Falling provides a low-key close to the album, a slower track featuring the dream-pop vocals of Stephanie Dosen. This isn’t an unfamiliar approach from the boys and again, provides a nod to what’s come before.
I’ll have to see how this opus plays over time, but right now it’s placed itself as a strong contender for album of the year.
I’m pretty convinced that album of the week is a shoe-in this time around. Will anyone be able to sneak ahead of the mighty Chemical Brothers? On first listen, possibly not, but some albums can really take you by surprise. The challenge is on.