The Chemical Brothers
"Exit Planet Dust"
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
Today (2012) is, I would argue, the highest point electronic music has reached in its relatively short history. Thanks largely to Super-DJs in the subgenres of house (Deadmau5) and dubstep (Skrillex), electronica almost exists on the same popularity plane as hip-hop and pop. It's not the first tidal wave of electronica to catch the world's attention however, nor the best (as I and many critics would agree). In the mid-'90s, The Chemical Brothers and England's "big beat" movement would make electronic music acceptable radio fare.
Much like how the grunge movement almost singularly came out of Seattle, Manchester gave birth to almost every major big beat act at the same time, including The Chemical Brothers, today's subject, as well as Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy. The big beat format tried to incorporate rock as much as possible, most often by simply sampling guitar-based tracks and by using more realistic-sounding drum machines, unlike the 808 model popular in hip-hop (although groups like The Prodigy feature a live drummer). Of course the groups used plenty of synth-loops and other electronic effects as well, but on the whole this is some of the most organic electronica ever.
"Exit Planet Dust" is commonly cited as the first widely released big beat album, and (non-sibling) members Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons hit the listener head-on with the new style right out of the gate with the single "Leave Home." The track opens with a short Kraftwerk sample and some classic hip-hop table scratching, but the best part has to be the bursts of a funky Motown bass guitar. I would hazard that neither of the Brothers played the instrumental insert themselves (although I can't find a citation for the sample), but the part creates the sense of a live performance, something lacking (again, in my opinion) from many electronica albums. Add the simple, repeated vocal line "the brothers gonna work it out," and the group is out of the gate with a bang (or a bass).
The fast and heavy approach continues throughout the first half of the album, continuing the standard set during "Leave Home" on other singles "In Dust We Trust" and "Song To The Siren." The tracks slow down for the most part during the second half of the record. "Chico's Groove" sets the tone with a soft rock intro and leads up to the similar "One Too Many Mornings." The only two tracks that can be considered truly non-instrumental, "Life Is Sweet" and "Alive Alone" (featuring Tom Burgess of The Charlatans, and Beth Orton, respectively) close the album out in a relatively quiet mood. Prior to "Alone," "Playground for A Wedgeless Firms" temporarily reestablishes the big beat feel however. The Chemical Brothers never achieved the popularity of Fatboy Slim or The Prodigy (probably because those two generated countless catchy hooks), but the Brothers deserve credit for, if not actually founding the big beat movement, releasing the groundbreaking first album from it. Don't just take my word for it; Slim himself has credited the Brothers for its inspiration on him.
INTERESTING FACT: The Chemical Brothers were originally titled The Dust Brothers, after the duo who made the Beastie Boys critically acclaimed with "Paul's Boutique." The latter sued, and the new moniker was established. The incident partially led to the title of "Exit Planet Dust."