Tuesday, August 21, 2007

[086] Dig Your Own Hole

Album: Dig Your Own Hole
Artist: The Chemical Brothers
Release Date: April 1997
Label: Astralwerks
Producers: The Chemical Brothers

We all know the Grammy’s aren’t really the standard for good taste in music, but in 1998, they made a very telling choice: they awarded The Chemical Brothers, a duo of electronic dance DJ’s, the Grammy for Best Instrumental Rock Performance for their song “Block Rockin’ Beats”. That says pretty much all you need to know about the music of The Chemical Brothers, at least at the time. Everything was meant to be big, and in that way, The Chemical Brothers were the electronic Led Zeppelin. Released in April 1997, The Brothers’ second album, Dig Your Own Hole, was the first major shot in the summer of “Big Beat”; debuting in the top 20, and setting the stage for Prodigy’s #1 debut that July, it was the commercial height of the dance sub-genre in the US. But because America was so behind in cutting edge “Electronica” at the time, and because club culture prefers to stay on the margins of the mainstream, no one realized that all this dance music that they were falling in love with was crumbling down, only to be built up again as something wholly different. This album wasn’t the beginning of something new; it was the end of everything before it. Down came all the advances of early Prodigy, Underworld, and Moby, the merging of all the rave culture, the acid house bands like The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays and the UK dance club’s relationship with “Cool Britannia” (who needs a remix of a Manic Street Preachers song anyway?), DJ’s appetite for Hip-Hop breakbeats and the cacophony of Dust Brothers and Public Enemy productions, slamming head on into the new psychedelia found in the soupy aurora borealis of Trance. No more movies like Hackers or soundtracks like The Saint. Anything after this tasted like leftovers. It was all done, because Dig Your Own Hole summarized it all, often whole corners of the genre in one song; it was the best you could get if you wanted this type of music.

It’s so big, it has so much going on, you could get lost in this album, and its music had no problems rocking an arena or festival campgrounds. The album’s flawless first half is so in your face you might miss the intricacies. Although finding a source for my figure now, a decade later, is probably impossible, I seem to remember The Brothers mentioning that over 600 samples were used on the record, but they were so mangled and warped that most of them are unidentifiable. When “Beats” is let out of the cage, you immediately hear the debt to PE’s Bomb Squad, and while Chuck D no doubt rhymed over tracks this layered back in the day, it’s easy to hear why MC’s weren’t brave enough to approach The Brothers to produce some tracks until years later, after they’d streamlined their sound – with a song this complete, who could add to it? The hard-charging title track turns the energy up even higher, riding multiple rubber-band basslines to the electronic Valhalla, the 8-minute funk Godzilla that is “Elektrobank”. This song is so maniacally propulsive that it would be impossible to not dance, or shake, or move, or react. The Brothers know their history – they know that the relationship between dancing and Hip-Hop hinges on the Latinos; if they didn’t start breaking in the late 70’s, the music would’ve disappeared from clubs before it even got on record. It’s through this knowledge that the beat for “Elektrobank” builds to a Puerto Rican Day Parade level of excitement and anarchy, congas and shakers beating your gray matter into submission, before it’s bombed into a musical demilitarized zone of Black Sabbath proportions. The bar is somehow raised again, with the stuttering “Piku” constantly turning back over on itself, keeping up with the turntablists of the time. These opening four tracks attack with no mercy, leaving you wasted and ill-prepared for the classic “Setting Sun”; it’s called “Big Beat” for a reason, and there are plenty in this song. To try and explain what this song sounds like is near impossible. What are all those noises? What instruments are they? Are they samples or did The Brothers play them? The line drawn from The Beatles’
“Tomorrow Never Knows” through My Bloody Valentine to “Setting Sun” was so effective that the Beatles’ lawyers sued, claiming theft where there was none. It was just a hell of a tribute; note to the remaining Fab duo: you don’t sue your children when they shower you with respect and flattery.

At the time of release, the album seemed front-loaded because of the outward power of those first five songs, but with the way that dance music has traveled in the decade since, the second half stands up nicely. Because its tracks hold closer to House and Techno’s basic dancefloor fillers, they have an easier time being timeless. You may not be able to throw on “Setting Sun” at a club now, but you could surely rock “It Doesn’t Matter” because, not only does the disembodied voice predict, say, Prefuse 73, but beyond that it’s little more than a masterful groove for asses to shake to. “Don’t Stop The Rock” and “Lost In The K-Hole” are still in line with what Daft Punk’s been pushing since Homework, and while “Get Up On It Like This” freaks Funk, Old School Hip-Hop, and Latin Freestyle, the elements are subtle and never overpower the rhythm to try and make it more than it is. Sunday morning ballad “Where Do I Begin” butters its toast with the creamy Beth Orton, setting the table for pretty much every song Dido will ever record, but it ends with a progressively decaying beat that she could never handle.

Finally, there’s the epic 9½-minute “Private Psychedelic Reel”, which stands as one of the towering achievements of modern dance music. Few songs ever approach the death-defying, mind-altering heights that this song so effortlessly climbs to. It’s that special kind of song, the kind that can make you thank the heavens for being alive at a moment when it exists. Ever since The Beatles put sitar on “Norwegian Wood”, it’s been cliché to speak this way, of enlightenment, of transcendence, of reaching spiritual nirvana, when talking about psychedelic music that pulls from Eastern music. But this song does transcend, at least, any other music The Chemical Brothers have ever made, before or since. It justifies their existence and the moment in musical history that Dig Your Own Hole represents. For that, no matter if it was a beginning or an end, it should be cherished and remembered.

01. "Block Rockin' Beats"
02. "Dig Your Own Hole"
03. "Elektrobank"
04. "Piku"
05. "Setting Sun' [feat. Noel Gallagher]
06. "It Doesn't Matter"
07. "Don't Stop The Rock"
08. "Get Up On It Like This"
09. "Lost In The K-Hole"
10. "Where Do I Begin" [feat. Beth Orton]
11. "The Private Psychedelic Reel"

"The Private Psychedelic Reel" [live video]

- BONUS: "Setting Sun" [single edit feat. Noel Gallagher - video]
- BONUS: "Block Rockin' Beats" [single edit - video]
- BONUS: "Elektrobank" [single edit - video]

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