Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Acid Test

"Am I coming through?/ Am I coming through?/ Is it sweet, and pure, and true?"

So implores Richard Ashland on "The Test," a song by The Chemical Brothers that I've had stuck in my head for days. The test referenced is of the Ken Kesey/Haight-Ashbury sort - "did I pass / the acid test?" - which fits because the Chemical Brothers' music is decidedly of a psychedelic flavor. Contributions to the rave scene notwithstanding, their music can be thoroughly enjoyed sans chemical enhancement.

The Chemical Brothers are recognized as among the best in their genre (loosely, techno/electronica/dance) but they've achieved a fair amount of crossover success. Their creativity and originality has a lot to do with it: while so much dance/techno sounds the same, the Chem Bros make each track distinct and fresh. Much of their appeal, however, could be the strong rock influences, beats, & samplings that pepper their songs. One critic described them as "rock and roll fans who happen to make great dance music." Listen to Let Forever Be, their greatest crossover hit: it features a distinctly rock & roll backbeat, as well as structure & vocal style more akin to rock than most techno.

I'd consider myself a rock afficionado that occasionally gets into techno (besides the Chem Bros, I listen to Moby, Prodigy, Brian Eno, etc). The thing that grates on me about techno, particularly the stuff you'd consider dance music, is that it gets so repetitive that it's annoying - the same beats & samples, over & over again. This feature almost defines the genre, but I think one reason I can get into the Chem Bros is a deft balence between consistency throughout a track and changing up the sound. A great example is "Hey Boy Hey Girl." There are only four lines of lyrics, repeated over and over: "Hey Girl/Hey Boy/Superstar DJs/Here we go." It starts out slowly & very distinct from the music, in an annoying, grating nasal voice. But by the time you think, "ok, this is stupid," it has morphed into something completely different, and you find yourself grooving on the beat. Galaxy Bounce is somewhat the same way.

A final track I'd recommend listening to is "The State We're In." You may have heard it without realizing it, on the film "Lost in Translation" (in the scene at the bar with the fireworks projected onto giant weather balloons). It's a gorgeously sung mood peice, with thick syrupy tones that stand alone, then melt into an evocatively strident beat. It's the best example of Chemical Brothers as chill-out music, something that a lot of techno other than the ambient subset has been unable to achieve. If you could listen to only two tracks, I'd recommend this one & "The Test," & you'll be begging for more.