Formed in Manchester at the height of the city’s influential ‘Madchester’ era (defined by the psychedelic drugs that fueled its inception as much as the celebratory combination of dance and rock music its flag bearers championed), The Chemical Brothers discovered an innovative way of bringing the guitar to the club floor. Of course this didn’t actually involve guitars so much as it did samples of guitars, along with drum machines, loops, spot-on sequencing, and a whole host of siren calls (“One Too Many Mornings,” “Alive Alone”). Tracing a neon glow-stick through its many electronic influences, acid house, funky breaks and trip hop to name a few, their debut out-raves any of the dance beats that had yet dropped upon its release.
A jab of sorts at The Dust Brothers (which was actually the Chemical Brothers’ first chosen moniker), Exit Planet Dust very nearly burst under the propulsive strength of its own block rocking feats. Two years before Fatboy Slim’s popular take on the Chem Bros bombastic beat-making earned him two Grammy nominations and invaded television screens across America (in the form of rampant commercial licensing), the duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons helped to pioneer a movement that would ultimately fizzle out around the close of the century, but not before electrifying a whole generation of DJs ready to flex their own mixing muscle.
Go ahead and forget that this is the same band that would eventually release “The Salmon Dance” on their latest flop (2007’s We Are The Night). In 1995 the Brothers’ turntables were unapproachable by mere mortals. These are the same men that ignited a funeral pyre containing the remnants of Manchester ‘s momentary status as drug and music capital of the world, only to emerge unscathed from the flames of the scene’s inevitable demise (or comedown, if you will). What designated Rowlands and Simons was their blatant disregard for what had become a conventional approach to dance beats filtered through a typical guitar/bass/drums combo.
“Chemical Beats” is a trance-worthy plunge into tribal rhythms, drenched in the salt vapor and sweaty abandon it induces. Here and throughout the duo demonstrate persistent production talent, from the ominous alarm sample that opens name-checking first track “Leave Home” to the tightly wound percussion of sensationalist “In Dust We Trust.” Tempos take breathers rather than change outright. “Song To The Siren,” besides featuring female vocal loops that exude icy exhalations with frigid frequency, is a bit of a schizoid shuffle of strange electronic flourishes and drum effects.
With songs sequenced to blend together with no discernable seams, Exit Planet Dust flows as a cohesive whole. The result is a narrative of unstoppable rhythm laced together by necessary highs and lows. Aforementioned “One Too Many Morning” is a cool drop of acid on a daybreak high, hints of dub thrumming through the album’s most placid (and transcendent) vocals. Counterpoint “Alive Alone” delves despondently into its honey-slowed themes with apathetic aplomb. With a chorus as cheery as, “I’m alive, and I’m alone, and I never wanted to be either of those,” who needs self-loathing?
Though bands like The Crystal Method (considered by many to be America’s answer to The Chemical Brothers) as well as countless others would take numerous cues from Exit Planet Dust in the years that followed its release, none seemed able to match the Mancunians beat for beat at their own game as they enjoyed their mid-’90s prime. Big beat may have come and gone in a brief blaze, but its forefathers’ inspiring first foray still shudders and shakes the street as hard as it ever has.