Release Date: Apr 12, 2019
Record label: Astralwerks / Virgin EMI
Genre(s): Electronic, House, Electronica, Club/Dance, Progressive House
There's always a tendency, with bands that possess back catalogues as stacked as The Chemical Brothers, to exist on festival headline slots and half-baked new material every couple of years. And who could blame them? Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons could be seen as guilty of that themselves over the last decade, but on 'No Geography' they punch their way back into the present day with a revelation of a record. The tone - pedal to the metal, hard as fuck, unrelenting - is set within seconds of opener 'Eve Of Destruction', a robotic voice menacingly repeating its title.
Attention, entire electronic dance music landscape, please take note. The old English chaps, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (aka The Chemical Brothers), have returned to enamour us with their sonic orgasms. No Geography, the duo's ninth full-length over 25 years, is a seamless mix that throws in everything plus the kitchen sink. Rave music doesn't have to be a fad or in the stream of the main— it just has to feel good— and who is going to do it better than The Chemical Brothers? The Chemical Bros' timeless bangers and fresh soundscapes move from one ear to the other ear; a vivid trail through the brain.
The Chemical Brothers made the technological boom of the divisive '90s theirs by providing the anxious era with explosive beats and a new age of dance music. With their seminal debut, Exit Planet Dust, the duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons helped push the big beat genre into the mainstream, but their influence did not begin and end with their debut. In fact, the records that followed, Dig Your Own Hole and Surrender converted doubters of the electronic dance scene--hip-hop heads and rock-lovers--into believers of what the duo and genre had to offer.
While we reel from the tragic and unexpected loss of The Prodigy's Keith Flint, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons find themselves more exposed as mature spokesmen of UK dance music. Yet it’s The Chemical Brothers who step up to the plate to provide an appropriate response to the events in their country's recent political history. With discontent, protest and unbridled malice coursing through its veins, ninth album No Geography finds them rising to the challenge with even more bark and bite.
The molecular structure of the Chemical Brothers' various albums has typically taken one of two forms: brash, psychedelic odysseys in retro rave, or scattered forays into pop-rock and hip-hop assisted by aging rappers, wispy folkies, and Brit-rock flavors of the month from back when NME was still in print. The pros and cons of both approaches are evident in Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons' three-decade career. The Revolver-esque end-of-a-century blowout Surrender aside, the boombastic rocktronica of the duo's early output now smacks of a certain aggressive staleness; as for the Chem Bros' dismal, collab-heavy 2000s run--which included songs about Osama Bin Laden and dancing like a salmon, as well as an aptly titled slice of miserabilia called "No Path to Follow"--the less said, the better.
The futuristic Manchester duo return with another spell-binding and forward-thinking collection of festival smashers, still light years ahead of their peers Of all the big British dance acts to emerge in the '90s - and there were plenty - The Chemical Brothers have perhaps emerged as the victors. While contemporaries have tailed off with patchy recent releases, and others look back with retrospective tours, the Manchester duo have always had one direction: onwards. Over their 25-year career, that mindset seems to have taken the pair, comprised of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, very far indeed, Big beats dominated their releases in the ’90s ('Exit Planet Dust', 'Dig Your Own Hole' and 'No Surrender') while albums over the following two decades have seen the band embrace hip-hop stylings (2005's 'Push The Button') and interpolate their film-scoring talents (2010's underrated 'Further').
The Lowdown: In the 1990s, well before the EDM tidal wave crashed onto American shores, rave music had infiltrated European soil and was on its way to becoming a major cultural phenomenon. In the US, electronic music was generally confined to its own insular subcultures — Chicago house and Detroit techno — but across the pond a different tea was a brewing: Big Beat. Inspired by British post-punk and nascent electro pioneers like Kraftwerk, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (The Chemical Brothers) would soon become one of the biggest purveyors of the British Big Beat genre, along with artists like Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, and Basement Jaxx.
On a brisk set with some familiar callbacks to their big beat heyday, the Chemical Brothers offer a decent late-era installment with their ninth album, No Geography. Not as exploratory or insular as their other 2010s output, No Geography is a steady, no-frills mix that focuses more on clever samples than guest vocals and festival-sized body-rocking. Standing out atop the pack, the singles are the best moments on the album.
You have to feel a bit for the position that The Chemical Brothers--or, really, any era-defining act in any genre--find themselves in. You probably don't need reminding that Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons were one of the most popular and arguably most important electronic music acts of the 1990s. They helped break the sound of rave in America, played monumental live shows and wrote some of the most far-out music to ever top the UK singles chart.
The original masters of big electronic beats, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, are back with their ninth album, a return of sorts to the idiosyncratic sound that rewrote the rules of dance and pushed it into the mainstream back in the '90s: rough edges and analogue sonics sculpted from psychedelic synths, carefully-curated vocal samples and rambunctious beats. Far fewer guests appear here than on their 2015 installment, though it's Japanese rapper Nene and Norwegian artist Aurora that open proceedings with retro-edged 'The Eve Of Destruction'. Title track 'No Geography' holds a nostalgic euphoria while liquid disco 'Got To Keep On' captures that trademark The Chemical Brothers hypnotic quality, building to a maddening climax.
T hree decades after they emerged - along with Underworld, Orbital and the Prodigy - as field-filling dance-music big beasts, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons's ninth album journeys back to the source. During recording, they built a "studio within a studio", containing all their old vintage/analogue gear, which had been gathering dust since the 1990s. The idea was presumably that by making music how they used to, they'd rekindle some of the old inspiration and then tweak it for 2019 with the larger studio's modern tech.