György Ligeti, known to most folks with good ears as the Hungarian composer whose music Stanley Kubrick extensively used in his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, wrote Atmosphères in 1961 for large orchestra. Ligeti had earlier worked with electronic music — not the kind that we know coming from the consoles of the Chemical Brothers and their cousins, but the ‘classical stuff’ tinkered and tailored by sonic-scapers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen in the Beeping Sixties. The haunting Atmosphères, even though it uses ‘classical’ orchestral instruments, is possessed with an ‘electronic aesthetic’, logical, rational but forming a total cloud of emotions.
The Chemical Brothers’ latest album, Further, makes the same journey as Ligeti. Except this 8-track record comes from the opposite end of the spectrum: electronic music seeped in the ‘classical aesthetic’ to bring us the sound of life at a molecular level.
To be honest, when I first put the CD on, I thought there was something wrong with my stereo or with my copy of the CD. The Morse code bips and beeps with a jarring background noise of electronic disturbance in the opening track, ‘Snow’, takes a few seconds to segue into a bassline and voice. The Mika-like vocals can be discouraging, but by the time a minute is up and a melody is intravenously injected into the number, you realise you’ve entered a blood stream. Until the trademark grating sound well into the song, you can’t even tell that it’s our old Manchester buddies Chemical Tom (Rowlands) and Chemical Ed (Simons) looping their loops again.
‘Escape velocity’ emerges directly from ‘Snow’ and has the feeling of a surge, a sonic equivalent of moving against gravity. That amplitude (read: volume) is as important in this scheme of things as rhythm and tune becomes obvious as the pitch rises to a crescendo, but instead of crashing into a Chemical Brothers climax, we hear a settling down to pure Ibiza beats on which layers are added like a reverse end-to-start process of peeling an onion. I felt matters getting a bit tiresome, which is when I slid to ‘Another world’. The mood music can be a turn-off, but I believe some people prefer this kind of ambient buzz with a voice droning the words ‘Another world...’ like a cross between Shahid Kapur and Syd Barret.
Which is when redemption comes in the form of the tumultuous sound of two heavy trucks skidding (and you can hear the skid marks) and coming close to crashing into each other — or that’s what I made of the chorus bit of Dissolve. It has the bounce of an R.D. Burman floorburner as well as the heaviness of horses. Which brings us to ‘Horse power’, a track of saracenic force that actually turns the repetitive force of electronica into galloping horse hooves. After that Arabesque, the gear changes back to the more ‘chilled out’ zone of ‘Swoon’. But only to be tempo-broken by ‘K+D+B,’ a chant of percussions, where pure beat is played against a backdrop of distant steel drums.
The Chemical trip ends with ‘Wonders of the deep’, a steely track clothed in softer sounds that seems to nostalgically look at the future.
Further doesn’t have any tracks of the power of classics such as the hand- to-hand combat force of Blockrockin' Beats or the sheer psychotropic beauty of The Test. But the album takes us to a zone where two playful chaps are being interestingly meditative.
The Chemical Brothers
Parlophone/Virgin, Rs 395
Macy’s pepper spray
It’s a sad thing when someone you love, comes up with something as flimsy as this album. Macy Gray’s distinctive mud-soaked vocals come to nothing in The Sellout.
The music swerves from lazy to downright bad. Even the only number that works, ‘Kissed it’, with it’s T. Rex bump’n’grind glam riff is Macy trying to be Goldfrapp — and failing. (The fact that the now-defunct Velvet Revolver with Slash’s overkill is the band backing her on this track should tell us how long and difficult it’s been for Macy to get this album out.)
‘Beauty in the world’ starts with a hopeful tambourine shake and Macy drawing out her lines nicely, with a nice innocence that can be enjoyed only by the mature. But the chorus is so perversely nursery rhyme-ish that immediately the whole thing set up crashes to the ground. And that’s only one of the 11 disasters that Macy commits in her own name. Which is a pity. With that voice, the least she could have done was sing good songs.
Universal, Rs 395