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Shall we call an end to silly concept CDs? And don't call me Mary or I'll claw your eyes out.

-- Raymond Tuttle

Chemical Brothers
Dig Your Own Hole
(Astralwerks)

On their debut album, Exit Planet Dust, the Chemical Brothers -- Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons -- seemed most interested in adding element after element to their beats, then pulling them unexpectedly out of the mix and letting the tension build up relentlessly, anxiously, as we tried to anticipate just when the other beat would drop, when everything would come crashing back in. But on Dig Your Own Hole the Brothers have so many ideas to make us move, so many beats they want to throw down, that they don't have time for such old-school dance floor tricks. Instead of dulling the musical momentum in order to restore it, these new tracks simply and suddenly divert the momentum into some new, unanticipated direction. In "Piku," for example, a loping, loud, hip-hop groove suddenly steals the steering wheel away from the intense whirring that had been driving us forward just a breath before; the challenge is to keep up and hang on as more and noises scream by and as the rhythms pile up. Throughout Dig, the Chemical Brothers have cranked the BPM's and made the samples even more dense, the rhythms even more complex, and the wonder of it all is that, like the Bomb Squad before them, they've created music that sounds more powerful and focused the more crazed and seemingly out of control it becomes.

Possibly in an attempt to make techno more understandable to the rhythmless masses, the duo has also added voices on a few cuts here, but it's unlikely that the results will get them over. In fact, the least interesting moment on the album is the most conventionally song-based composition, "Where Do I Begin," in which vocalist Beth Orton crawls through a meandering, indolent melody that never catches hold. At least so far, voices work best in the Brothers' world when they serve as just another rhythmic element, or as pure atmosphere. For about the first minute of the psychedelic "Setting Sun" right up until this piercing, trumpety synth blast comes firing in (only to be almost immediately replaced by some spy-flick sitar riffs), you almost expect the Brothers to break out singing "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream" from the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." But then guest Noel Gallagher appears, shouting and echoing along in a sing-song melody, and the main effect is to make the beats slam all the harder when they quickly yank back the song. Like the album's great first single, the thundering "Block Rockin' Beats," the music on Dig Your Own Hole is about sound and rhythm most of all and the inchoate meaning that can be expressed only by a joyous, rocking noise -- and by the way it makes us want to move.

-- David Cantwell

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