The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Escape Velocity’ opens with the ethereal whispers that underpin ‘Snow‘, the track that precedes it on the 2010 album ‘Further’. ‘Snow’ slowly sputters into life, mechanical whizzes and whirs hardly waking the track out of a romantic slumber while the female vocalist reiterates ‘your love keeps lifting me higher’. Giving over the first few bars of ‘Escape Velocity’ to that same sentiment, the Chemical Brothers might have tried to lull listeners into a false sense of security, have them invest in the notion that the duo that stacked disc two of their 2008 release ‘Brotherhood’ with ten tracks named ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ 1-10, might have gone all sappy. Forgotten their big beat roots and embraced harmonies, melodies, prettiness. Indeed, much of the early part of ‘Further’ is left for almost psychedelic trips characterised by looped and sequenced vocals, diffuse and distorted electronic sounds and the kind of universal messages of peace and love that might be more at home on a Bob Sinclair record than with the two Manchester lads.
‘Escape Velocity’ disabuses the briefly misled of any concept that The Chemical Brothers had misplaced their electronic artillery for an entire album and instead, were going to redouble their focus on making music that might see them into retirement after their seventh studio release. ‘Escape Velocity’ is a slap in the face to those who were taken with the intricate whimsy of ‘Snow’, a big dump of cold water that, as soon as the determined rocket-booster of an intro is replaced by the militaristic quick march of a beat, reminds those listening that this is a Chemical Brothers production, after all. Any sense of waterbed dreaming established in the album’s opener is shattered as handclaps and a glitchy melody line that drops out sporadically reestablish the ordered chaos that the Brothers do so well. But it is equally unfair to right this off as a simple wake-up call of a track. Although it undoubtedly fulfills that function, the complexities, the recurring and interposed and totally left-field motifs, and the way you constantly imagine something is going to positively explode in the ether around you for the entire 11’55” of the set piece makes it so, so much more.
I love a lot about ‘Escape Velocity’. It’s difficult to produce a song clocking in at almost 12′ and which is not pure atmospherics but actually has a sonic narrative underpinning it (see the lens flare-tastic accompanying short film as further evidence of that) and have it sustain any audience’s attention. The Chemical Brothers, 19 years deep into their illustrious career when this was released, clearly have the requisite tools to carry off such a feat. Instead of being ponderous and unfurling gradually, ‘Escape Velocity’ follows a fairly parabolic trajectory such that different elements are constantly added to the rich aural mix until it seems at bursting point and then slowly snuffed out synth by synth. That mathematical representation doesn’t appropriately depict the sometimes brutal, often chaotic but always impressively steered amalgam of noises ‘Escape Velocity’ is. Lined up against the immutably catchy but usually simplistic chart-toppers of today, this track is a masterpiece. Without that contrast and in its own right, ‘Escape Velocity’, heard through capable earphones, is always a trip worth taking.
The Chemical Brothers – Escape Velocity