We Are The Night, the sixth studio album from English electronica giants, The Chemical Brothers, begins with a one-minute track that sounds like a terrestrial whale sniffing for a buried bone. The disc shows the duo loosening up, painting wide brushstrokes of sound over a soundscape that has plenty of room for bizarre creatures and wild tributaries. Electronica music is built on layering. Essentially, architects Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons are trying to build something living and breathing out of hundreds of individual sampling components. The question becomes, will the product be a beautiful butterfly out of the chrysalis, or something with nineteen legs, no eyes, and genitals for wings?
The answer concerning We Are The Night is somewhere on the positive side of the middle. While not exactly up to snuff with excellent albums like Dig Your Own Hole or Surrender from the band’s catalogue, it nonetheless holds its own as an exercise in sound and sampling. The Brothers prove with this release that they’re not yet obsolete in a sound that has occasionally breached the continental divide between Europe and the U.S over the past 20 years.
The Chemical Brothers’ strength lies in their ability to tie sampled melodies with body-gyrating synthetic percussion. “Saturate” begins with two samples built around mind-boggling time signatures. The unreal beats mash the brain like putty, softening it for a celestial build midway through. The cymbals crash like someone hitting a gong with a battering ram and the keys spasm fried robotics over the stretched bars. “A Modern Midnight Conversation” is a percussion powerhouse. The aluminum rhythms and funky synth bass form a foundation under the lone angel vocals soaring overhead. It’s one of the best tracks on We Are The Night, melding the lucid voice sampling of Orbital with ripe beats.
These and other tracks succeed in creating Polaroids of circuited plastic futures, where synchronized lights play the part of drugs and leather is the language of love. The album’s title track is a lot like Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine” given a house makeover. Digitized old school video game midi meets warbling caverns of ripe synth to impart the impression of flight. The Chemical Brothers even sample their own song “The Sunshine Underground” on this track.
Despite some standouts like the pounding “All Rights Reserved,” most of the missteps on the album are the more voice-heavy tracks. “The Salmon Dance” is not one of those songs with a bizarre title that has no bearing on the musical content. It’s actually what it implies. A dialogue of fact and disbelief between a dude and a talking salmon, it sounds like Sesame Street on ether. Although it’s a welcome light addition in the Fatboy Slim vein of weird, it’s rather stupid ultimately. “Do It Again” is a fist-pumping song that sounds out of place wedged in between two lofty stews of ambiance, “Saturate” and “Das Spiegel.”
With their flighty rhythms and shattering beats, The Chemical Brothers’ formula adds up to a satisfying result nearly fifteen years after Chemical Tom and Ed’s inception. We Are The Night is a solid dance record.