We’re going to do two reviews a week here – one of a new album (less than a year old) and one of an older album. We also thought it’d be cool if our reviews took the form of a discussion, with humor and personality, rather than a dry essay. Our throwback album review this week is of The Chemical Brothers’ 1997 album Dig Your Own Hole. Click “continue reading” to check it out.
The Chemical Brothers are one of the most successful electronic acts of all time. They hail from Bristol, England, and are known for popularizing the big beat genre in the mid-90s. They have been working consistently since 1991, and have influenced a great number of subsequent electronic artists.
Zen: Alright. I am so ready for this.
Oscar: Good. I’m gonna be folding laundry simultaneously.
Zen: I will also be folding clothes. Sometimes I worry we’re too alike.
Oscar: Good thing we’re 1600 miles away, or the universe might implode.
Zen: I think as long as neither of us have the same haircut the universe will be OK. So, why this album?
Oscar: I happened upon a list of the best electronic music albums of all time and this was number two, after Daft Punk, and I remembered liking The Chemical Brothers when I had heard them in the past, so I chose it.
Zen: Really? 2nd place? That’s… That’s definitely a statement. That’s definitely a thing someone said.
Oscar: I think it was Rolling Stone, so I was partially motivated by skepticism.
Zen: Did you wind up agreeing with the list?
Oscar: I don’t know if I’d say second best ever but I liked the album a lot. All the weird samples were great, and although it does feel a bit dated, it’s consistently a lot of fun.
Zen: It is a lot of fun, that’s true. But what I wound up enjoying about the album was more the bits and pieces rather than the album as a whole. Did it live up to your hope of being the first electronic album to hold your interest the entire time?
Oscar: Not really. I never was bored per se, but I did feel it could have been shorter. It’s just such a distinct style that doesn’t change much. But I also didn’t feel bad focusing on other stuff once in a while, since I can’t imagine they had in mind sober people sitting down and listening.
Zen: That’s a good way of looking at it. I can’t agree with you on not getting bored though. When it first started I was really pumped about all the drum ‘n’ bass happening, and then after the first half of the album went by I became kind of depressed that everything always led up to the typical electronic banging kit. It felt limited in its scope.
Oscar: Yeah, but I don’t think scope really has much to do with it. Like this was the dance music of the time – they set out to make a big beat album and they made a big beat album. You wouldn’t expect Skrillex to break into jazzy interludes.
Zen: True. I guess it boils down to me liking some of the tracks a lot and feeling like a lot of the others just sounded like GarageBand loops.
Oscar: That’s fair. In that case, I guess it would be the opportune moment to ask what your top three were.
Zen: Beautiful segue. My top is “Piku.” After “Elektrobank” was winding down and they had that weird piano riffing happening, I hoped that the piano riffing wouldn’t stop. And then it didn’t stop and became the next song. Which made me happy.
Zen: “Piku” also broke the mold in my mind of BOOM snare BOOM BOOM snare. I loved the way it played with its rhythm and felt vaguely seasick. “Dig Your Own Hole” is 2nd. I think it is literally he perfect example of drum ‘n’ bass music being fantastic. And unlike later tracks such as “Lost In The K-Hole,” where I felt the bass sample sounded incredibly stale, lacking emotion, “Dig Your Own Hole”’s bass made me bob my head like a motherfucker.
Oscar: Just to nitpick, this is actually big beat, not drum ‘n’ bass. They’re similar, but drum ‘n’ bass is a lot faster. And drum ‘n’ bass relies less on old samples.
Zen: And to that I say, I don’t care. I would file Dig Your Own Hole under both. Although while I don’t care too much about these sub-genres, you may want to send Pandora an email because they’ve definitely played The Chemical Brothers when I was listening to drum ‘n’ bass station one day.
Oscar: I’ll go fuck them up.
Zen: I’ll hold your glasses. My 3rd pick is “Block Rockin’ Beats.” One of the pitfalls of music like this is keeping the listener’s attention. Constantly bringing in new musical themes and then recycling old ones without it feeling re-hashed or stale. “Block Rockin’ Beats” really impressed me with its skill in doing just that. Plus, I loved those crazy horn sounds.
Oscar: Good points all around.
Zen: Your top 3?
Oscar: Number one is “Dig Your Own Hole.” It’s kind of irresistible. Perfect drum loop, weird guitar, weird electronic shit added on top, and you groove to that for a while and then the break comes with that crazy whistle and it changes the game.
Oscar: It was just the most joyful, energetic, exuberant song on the album. 2 is “The Private Psychedelic Reel.” It’s so ’90s and fun.
Zen: It felted dated in the best way possible.
Oscar: It made me feel like I was on some shitty old BBC show about, like, a group of young friends in London being happy. Which sounds really utterly corny, because so is that song, but it’s intelligent about it.
Zen: I would totally hang with that group of London friends. Well, for the duration of that song. Then I’d be peacing.
Oscar: 3rd is “Block Rockin’ Beats.” It also exemplified what I liked most about the album. The ’90s energetic feel. Except this one made me feel like I was in the first Jason Bourne movie instead of a TV show. Like I was running from the cops across some European city.
Zen: I had a similar moment, where for a split second I believed I was Neo from The Matrix and dodging bullets in slow motion.
Zen: And I don’t even say that as a joke. That’s honestly what image the music conjured in my mind’s eye. Bottom 3?
Oscar: Oh, I would never take anything you say as a joke. My bottom was “It Doesn’t Matter.” It was cold, emotionless, not that interesting musically. All the stuff I don’t like about this type of music.
Zen: One of mine too. I had painful flashbacks about DJ Shadow.
Oscar: Number two is “Elektrobank.” Not interesting enough to sustain its length.
Zen: Yes. 3rd?
Oscar: “Setting Sun.” No gripes in particular, I just wasn’t digging it.
Zen: I’ll help you out and gripe on your behalf. Either too much drugs or a lack in vocal good taste contributed to The Chemical Brothers thinking that singer sounded good on that track.
Oscar: I didn’t mind the singer. I thought it evoked a certain ’90s feeling, but I wouldn’t say I liked it. I kind of nothinged it.
Zen: It definitely evoked the ’90s. Just the part of the ’90s I am not a fan of but. But that’s fair.
Oscar: Anyway, your bottom 3?
Zen: “Setting Sun.” Same reasons. “Lost In The K-Hole,” for the exact opposite reasons I loved “Dig Your Own Hole.” Plus all the reverse vocals annoyed me. It was an example why Kate Bush was so awesome for actually using that effect in a cool way. Last would be “Where Do I Begin.” It was the first real song to have most of its duration be about building ambience, and while I found that refreshing, I was sad I didn’t enjoy the end result more. I was beyond bored by the girl’s vocals and lyrics. And clearly albums like this aren’t meant to be judged on their poetry, but my view on music is if you put lyrics, make them not suck. Otherwise don’t put lyrics. And I hold that to all genres.
Oscar: I respect that choice, and would concur on the vocals.
Zen: Favorite musical moments?
Oscar: I think the break in “Dig Your Own Hole.”
Zen: Nice choice.
Oscar: The guitar sample changes and you feel like it’s leading up to something and it totally is and it’s dope. I don’t have a lyrical moment. Actually, my lyrical moment is “who is this doin’ this synthetic type of alpha beta psychedelic funky”
Zen: Fantastic choice.
Oscar: By the way, I just saw that the vocalist on “Setting Sun” is the dude from Oasis.
Zen: Explains why I thought the guy sounded like a dick. My favorite musical moment was when the crazy horn sound in “Block Rockin’ Beats” came in, and then came back later and kept doing it. And then kept doing it some more. No lyrical moment for me.
Oscar: Word. So, what’s your final score?
Zen: A hefty 7.
Oscar: ¿Por que?
Zen: Porque me gustó a lot of the album, and these guys might be my favorite who I’ve heard take on this sound, but the album did fall a lot into what I dislike about this genre. But as you said, they succeeded in making an album of the time that was really good at doing what it wanted to do. And that’s to be applauded.
Oscar: Word. My score is 7.1, because I agree with you but I feel obligated to give it a higher score than you.
Zen: That has become the trend. Don’t tempt me, though. I’m not afraid to bump up my decimals.
Oscar: If I love one thing, it’s conforming to expectations.
Zen: What’s better than living an average life?
Oscar: Around half of things.
Zen: Any last words?
Oscar: I like the album cover a lot.
Zen: Interesting. Why?
Oscar: The suggestion of the face, it’s just cool. It’s a photo of a fan of theirs from a gig they played.
Zen: That makes me like it more.
Oscar: I guess they took the photo and then upped the contrast as much as possible. No greys whatsoever.
Zen: That’s a cool fun fact. Thank you for sharing.
Get Dig Your Own Hole here, and come back next week for our reviews of Nine Inch Nails’s Pretty Hate Machine and Danny Brown’s Old.