The Chemical Brothers : For That Beautiful Feeling

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chemical brothers for that beautiful feeling review

Musicians’ shelf lives can be complicated calculations. Some are short, leaving us with flashes in pans. Some are long, risking staleness if not spoilage. Some artists see expiration dates coming and retire. Some ignore them and become punchlines. Some defy or reset them, resulting in renaissance or comeback. While the big beat genre really isn’t a thing anymore, a few of its foundational acts carry on even as they get further temporally and stylistically disconnected from trends in electronica. Some of the recent output from legendary UK duo The Chemical Brothers have been furtive grasps at past dance-music glories—intriguing upon release, but unable to leave a lasting impact. For That Beautiful Feeling sounds like a renaissance moment, a new LP that resets the timeline, however briefly.

For That Beautiful Feeling is still a typical big beat album, and even follows the typical Chemical Brothers formula: lots of tweaks to 4/4 traditionalism with occasional epic weirdness full of siren-like flanging and divebombing atmospherics. That weirdness, though, isn’t irritating or overwrought. And when it isn’t weird, it’s relentless and fun in a manner that any big beat veterans’ hasn’t been in almost two decades. Where prior career peaks like Push the Button and Exit Planet Dust came across as collections of discrete singles, this album holds songs built for headliner sets in a tracklist structured like one, full of long stretches of continuously mixed music. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons can still command space atop festival posters, and it’s not just the hypnotic megamix of this LP’s last three songs that shows us why.

For That Beautiful Feeling does not feel meditative or introspective. The most abstract sounds, the most emotive lyrics, even its two unmixed cuts (“Fountains” and the Beck collaboration “Skipping Like a Stone”) feel usable as intro, interlude, or straight-up banger for the dance tent. Loops of urgent phrases and impossibly deep bass from “Magic Wand” into “The Weight” provide welcome flashbacks to the kind of spy-music drama heard in the heyday of trip-hop as well as big beat. The Chemical Brothers also pay significant tribute to the New French Touch: Vitalic’s successes with unfettered drum fills, for example, and especially Daft Punk’s wide range from the clipped vocal samples of Homework to the disco arrangements of Random Access Memories. This influence is most prominent in the opening quartet of mixed tracks, with “Intro” and “Goodbye” as buzzing, dizzying bookends.

These references don’t mean The Chemical Brothers are standing on the shoulders of giants, especially considering they’re giants themselves, and the formula working [again] doesn’t mean they’re resting on laurels. Instead, For That Beautiful Feeling reminds us of just how much sway electronic music held in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, and that the right combinations of patches, triggers, and twiddled knobs in the right little fingers—young or old—can always blow you away.

Label: Republic

Year: 2023

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