Album Review: The Chemical Brothers’ “No Geography”

Electronica veterans The Chemical Brothers return with their ninth album, venturing into the far-out.

While 2019 has been filled with flashy comebacks from young and fresh talent, it has also brought us new music from industry veterans like The Chemical Brothers. This English electronic music duo has been active for three decades as of 2019, and they are legendary for legitimizing “big beat” as a popular genre in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. “Big beat” has fallen out of fashion for some time, with flashier and sexier EDM artists finishing the job of bringing electronic music into the mainstream. Nevertheless, The Chemical Brothers managed to stay relevant in the 2010s by toning down their raucous style and slipping some indie influences into their music, especially in their soundtrack for the film “Hanna” and their album “Born in the Echoes.”

“No Geography” marks The Chemical Brothers’ ninth studio album in their long career. To say they abandoned the idea of “staying relevant” is an understatement; their newest album teleports listeners back to the raging psychedelic beats of times long gone. “Gravity Drops” best showcases their return to the ‘90s, and one can’t help but picture a dance floor filled with club-goers decked out in gaudy ‘90s-style fashion.

With their return to the “big beat” style they were popular for, The Chemical Brothers also seem to be having a lot more fun with the beats and sounds they use. “Bango” blends elements of Latin percussion and glitch-style electronic music into their usual sound. Listeners may find the vocals a bit unsettling, but it fortunately doesn’t take away too much from how danceable this song is. For listeners who enjoy an edgier sound, “We’ve Got to Try” will not disappoint with its seamless transitions between a rocker-like vocal bridge and a head-banging electronic chorus. But one song that truly takes the cake is “Free Yourself.” While most of the song is fairly unmemorable, the chorus has a hilarious sound effect that seems reminiscent of several rubber chickens being squeezed simultaneously. A true testament to their skill, The Chemical Brothers managed to turn the sound into a genuinely enjoyable experience. It’s perhaps the clearest symbol of the shift The Chemical Brothers have taken from reproducible popular music to unconventional and artistic works for this album.

Nevertheless, “No Geography” does have a couple tracks that seem a bit more radio-friendly. “Got to Keep On,” despite its lyrical blandness, has a very pleasant ambiance to it given by a cute melody led by bells and chimes. “Catch Me I’m Falling,” the closing track to the album, is the best song for broadcast, with smooth vocals and rap lines interspersed with beautiful, fluttering electronic instrumentals.

Part of the reason why The Chemical Brothers decided to retreat to their old style of music could be due to politics. In a recent interview about their album, the duo discussed British politics extensively, which given the state of Brexit at the moment, may give insight into the album’s namesake. With this context, many songs in the album take on a completely different meaning. Ignoring the futuristic and hypnotic sound of “Eve of Destruction,” the dissonant robotic voice that continuously chants “the eve of destruction” gives the impression that a rogue virus has taken over the track, creating a foreboding atmosphere in the song that may reflect how tense the artists feel about the future of their home. “MAH” also seems to be a reflection of what The Chemical Brothers see in British politics. The song only has two prominently repeated lines: “I’m mad as hell” and “I ain’t gonna take it no more.” Couple that with the music video released for this song featuring an alien wearing a crown, “MAH” seems more like a criticism on how disconnected the government is from the needs of the people.

To the average music listener, most of this album, as interesting as it is, will seem quite daunting to listen to. However, this album is much more about the experience than it is about being consumed. Each song has several layers of sound overlapping to create an intricate piece of art. Further, the album’s suggested political inspirations add another dimension to the music, allowing for endless possibilities of interpretations of The Chemical Brothers’ intentions with certain songs. While this album may not be the best choice for your next road trip or kickback lest you get some strange looks from your friends, “No Geography” is nonetheless an album worth listening through at least once. Sure, the album has its overly hectic and atonal parts, but those who take the time to thoroughly experience and analyze it are bound to find the album extremely rewarding.

Grade: A-
Release Date: April 12, 2019

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