Dig Your Own Hole
Astralwerks Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/20/2001
Techno albums typically receive a bad rap, especially in the mainstream community. Sometimes, some of the criticisms merit the stigma: it's all a bunch of bass and computer bleeps, there is no song structure, unless your're on ecstacy, it sucks. Not too many of these albums truly rock.
Risking the alienation of techno purists, The Chemical Brothers set out to shatter these stereotypes in 1997 with Dig Your Own Hole. And to the dismay of these purists, the band created on the best albums of that year, and of that decade. Tom Rowlands and Ed Simmons, the two DJs that make up The Chemical Brothers, rose to prominence in Europe with "Exit Planet Dust." It would take Americans a couple of years to catch on.
The first track, "Block Rockin' Beats," has been described as a '90s answer to "Whole Lotta Love." If the bandwagon could slow down, I would like to climb on in regard to this comparison. Beginning with a funky bass beat, the music explodes with a blast of sonic fury. The music itself is fit for dance halls, but what's striking about the leadoff track is the confidence that Simmons and Rowlands display: They knew they were creating a landmark album, and they didn't shy away from the responsibility of delivering the goods.
To prove that electronica doesn't hide behind a wall of computers, the talents of Noel Gallagher and Beth Orton were recriuted. Gallagher is his slurry best with "Setting Sun." It is probably the second most-popular song on the album, but it is the least favorite for me. It still is a good song, but the noisy police siren of a guitar squall reminds me too much of bad anime soundtracks. The tag-team effect of the two DJs is displayed on the tennis-match-like song "Piku." Against a set of cymbol crashes, three simple computer beats are repeated in a volley-like fashion. The song also drops a deep bass line that would make any stereo system for a low rider proud.
For most of the album, the influences that the Chemical Brothers display are a mix between oddities such as Kraftwerk to headbangers AC/DC. Most of the tracks could out rock the heavy metal bands of the 90s. But the final three tracks add an artictic tone to the album.
The track "Lost In The K-Hole" is a funky number, propelled by a simple bass line. It also sets up to "Where Do I Begin." This transition almost makes Dig Your Own Hole sound like a concept album. The first eight tracks sound like a huge party, brimming and bubbling to capacity. However, the more pensive track, "Lost In The K-Hole," sounds like an after-hours chill-out session.
The beautiful, "Where Do I Begin" showcases Beth Orton's angelic voice. The simple chorus, "Where Do I Start, Where Do I Begin?" sounds so profound coming from her mouth, the phrase could be a question about a relationship or someone questioning their headonistic existance. And to add to the possible concept theme of the album, it is also one of the best songs to sum up a hangover that has ever been put to disc.
The final track, "Private Psychedelic Reel," combines the best elements of the past ten tracks of Dig Your Own Hole and throws them into a spiraling nine-minute epic, rich with Middle-Eastern instrumentation. The huge cadences of samples(some sound like rushing vehicles) and creative loops and a sitar-like synth is somehow held together by the two DJs. It's an amazing song. However, be cautious: listening to it on a stretch of highway typically leads to the urge to drive really, really fast.
If you need a good introduction to techno music...look elsewhere. Dig Your Own Hole should be listened to simply as a great album, no classification needed. While the middle tracks may succumb to rock excess, the overall effect of the album is mesmerizing and only gets better with repeated listens. Listen to it on your headphones, in the car, on your stereo, but most important, listen to Dig Your Own Hole with your heart.