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The Chemical Brothers

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From the first squeezed-out notes, those analog dots and dashes that flash and spark from the speakers, Further (released June 22, 2010) sounds like a record that is trying to break out of its confines. Like an alien Morse code transmission, it pulses like an Earth-bound signal that’s been bounced off the side of orbiting space debris. Snatches of voices found out in the ether cut through the machine fog, drifting across burbling analog equipment lovingly kept working long after supposed sell-by date. By the time the click and thump of snare and bass drum arrive, the sounds are all-encompassing, swirling around you with dizzying, disorientating effect. Noise is untethered by constraints of volume, seemingly leaping from left to right to middle with a life of its own. For a band used to dealing in psychedelics, this time ’round THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS have really pushed the envelope.

Tom: “This is definitely a very synthesizer-heavy record. Sometimes in the past we’d reign the synths in on tracks. On this record, we just let it all splurge out. We’d find things that made us feel good and not worry about other people’s ideals for how the record should sound, we just let it go.”

Further is The Chemical Brothers’ seventh studio album, an 8-track masterpiece of modern psychedelia. Effortlessly fusing freeform analog wig-outs to juggernaut dance-floor dynamics on the album’s first single, “Escape Velocity”– arguably the most unrelenting 12 minutes of music ever to pick up serious national radio support in the U.K. – the record sees Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons explore the boundless possibilities of their sound. Taking a trip through four decades of electronic noise, Tom & Ed have taken the template set up with their occasional Electronic Battle Weapon releases and allowed them to mutate gloriously into an entire album. Vocal samples are woven through tracks to create a record that ebbs and flows like one of the band’s legendary live sets. Here, the West Coast power pop harmonies of “Dissolve” sit beside German Motorik rhythms of “K+D+B” while Valentines-esque sonic manipulations plane across the top of early house basslines (“Swoon”). Further is the culmination of nearly two decades of psychedelic exploration, an immersive collection that sees The Chemical Brothers at their least restrained and most melodic best.

Facts and figures about the success of The Chemical Brothers over the seventeen years since the release of their first single (“Song To The Siren”) come as thick as the Yellow Pages when collected together. To highlight just a handful: millions of copies sold of six studio albums, the last five of which were consecutively No. 1 in the U.K.; played to the biggest crowd ever seen at Glastonbury’s 30th anniversary festival back in 2000, before the fence went up; multiple Grammys won over the length of their career; the first band to play at London’s Olympia (chosen as it was the location for the cover shot on the band’s Surrender album) in over a decade; vocal collaborations from nearly two dozen handpicked artists, from Noel Gallagher to Beth Orton, The Flaming Lips to Midlake, and Q-Tip to the Magic Numbers.

In a diversion from their own well-trodden path, Further marks the first time in Tom and Ed’s recording career where guests are eschewed in favor of electronic melody and snatches of found vocal sounds.

Tom: “From early on there was a guiding idea to not have any collaborators on the record. That pushed the sound of the record in a certain way.”

Ed: “After working with a lot of people over the last two albums, I remember Tom saying, ‘Let’s not think in those terms for this record.’ That felt really liberating. There are vocals on there. The lyrics that Tom wrote, the way the vocals are woven into the tracks… for us, that was enough to satisfy any needs we might have to hear songs on the record.”

Tom: “It’s not a reaction against prior records, we’re not trying to get rid of it or saying we won’t go back down that route but this felt right for this record, at this point in the band’s history.”

By focusing less on structured songs and more on twisting the most melody out of its eight tracks, Further resembles nothing so much as The Chemical Brothers at their most freeform – in the live arena. Anyone who has witnessed the band, either at festivals or in their own gigs, will be familiar with the sensory overload of their live experience. Further’s evolution is the first time one of the band’s albums is created consciously with an eye on the ebbs and flows of a Chemical Brothers live set.

Tom: “We put the record together in the same way we’d put a live set. We were very aware when we were programming the record of how it would lock together. We wanted an enveloping sound like one of our live shows.”

Ed: “The thing we realized when we’re playing live is that sometimes it’s the random things that cause the biggest reactions. A delay or a drop, something that no one is expecting. The randomness factor definitely adds an edge to things.”

Tom: “With the record, we wanted to make something where it didn’t matter if it wasn’t making total sense. I like records where things just ‘come in’ unannounced. Those are good things!”

Further’s eight tracks will come accompanied by corresponding visuals made exclusively for this release (and subsequent live shows). It’s the band’s first proper partnership with their longtime visuals collaborators Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall. Now a respected TV and film director (recently having completed the first episode of the current series of Doctor Who), Adam – aka Flat Nose George – has been responsible for creating the visual backdrop for every Chemical Brothers gig since their live debut in 1994.

Tom: “From the off, we had the idea that the record had to slot together as we knew we wanted to initially present it live as a complete body of work.”

Ed: “We wanted there to be something different about this record, not just in how it sounded. The idea of gigs where people first hear the record before it’s available, with a full set of new visuals, that’s been there since the start.”

Tom: “It’s been exciting to see how Adam would visualize the music. He’s been working with us for so long now, it’s his thing, we throw in suggestions but he’ll listen to the music and tell us how he thinks it’ll look. It’s an extra dimension to the whole thing and it’s exciting for us to see what he’s done…”

Adam Smith: “Because we’ve had the album and known the tracks upfront, we’ve been able to weave a story around the songs. I’ve been going to the studio all through the recording process and going away and coming up with ideas. It’s a kind of abstract journey, something like Alice falling through a psychedelic wonderland. Tom and Ed’s idea was that the live visuals would inform all the artwork too, so there’s an aesthetic that runs through the whole project. It’ll all tie together when you see it!”

Further’s live debut took place at London’s legendary Roundhouse venue from May 20-23, when The Chemical Brothers played a series of four gigs that sold out in a matter of minutes. The album will also be performed in its entirety at Sonar and a series of festivals across Eastern Europe over the summer. Each of these gigs will feature the album played against Smith’s visuals. Although it might seem a risky proposition to take untested material to the masses, it’s a challenge that the band approach with some gusto.

Ed: “Electronic music can be absorbing without you ever having heard it before; maybe that’s its evolution through clubs into the live arena but it definitely attracts very open-minded people. We want Further to have the same transcendent effects as the rest of our music on people hearing it.”

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