*** The Chemical Brothers, "Surrender," Astralwerks. Ever since the Chemical Brothers broke through in a big way with their 1997 album "Dig Your Own Hole," they've incurred the wrath of techno purists who felt the British duo had forsaken subtlety and depth in favor of big, dumb beats. Once hailed as innovators, they came to be regarded as lumbering giants, stamping out electronic music's potentially diverse outreach with the monolithic primacy of their big-beat approach.
Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands must have taken some of that criticism (much of it unwarranted) to heart, because their third studio album is less an invitation to hit the dance floor than a meditative exercise in head music. The beats are still there, but they don't announce themselves with "Dig's" brazen urgency. Instead, shimmering disco high-hats skim across the surface of percolating, synth-driven melodies, and bird-like twitters top mid-tempo electro-funk grooves. The album's hypnotic centerpiece, "The Sunshine Underground," begins life as a gentle, ambient riff, upon which the duo piles tribal beats, video game sound effects and swelling strings.
Curiously, the Chems' four stabs at conventional songs, with vocals from Mercury Rev's John Donahue and Oasis' Noel Gallagher, among others, are stilted and, well, conventional. They bog down what is an otherwise enchanting album.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.