Onward and Upward with Hot Chip
Joe Goddard (the low one) and Alexis Taylor (the high one), the main men behind London’s addictive, laid-back electro-soul outfit Hot Chip, have something on their minds. Call it a sort of metallic indie disco, soul-fed and calibrated with a keen sense of the ridiculous. It’s all rather excellent.
Hot Chip keeps telling us, through many of their songs, that they’re “laid back”. The truth is, though, that on their new album, The Warning, Hot Chip have raised the dance stakes in a way that is anything but laid back. Though still willing to deviate into soulful Kings of Convenience-style harmonies and occasionally tease the listener with tongue-in-cheek images, it’s clear from “Careful”‘s opening outburst of shuffling garage beat that Hot Chip is concerned with pushing their sound in a new direction, one that will have you moving along with them. It’s a step away from Prince and a step towards DFA heroes LCD Soundsystem, just a step, but a noticeable one.
The album’s been, and is bound to be, fertile fodder for DJ remixers to take the hints of dancefloor elation and make them explicit. We’ve heard some of this already. Take a listen to the Naum Gabo remix of “Over and Over” where the banging chant has been turned into a dark, deep electro anthem. It’s the version Erol Alkan has been playing recently and with good reason, because it’s the kind of song that has an immediate and noticeable effect on a crowd. Of course, Alkan’s been doing his own remixing too. His rework of “Boy From School” is delicious/dirty enough, too, to find its way onto progressive dancefloors before too long.
Part of Hot Chip’s appeal has been, and certainly continues to be, their lyrics, which combine platitudes about love with some alarmingly violent images. Notorious from their debut album was “Playboy”, with its chorus:
Drivin’ in my Peugeot, hey
20-inch rims with the chrome now, hey
Blazin’ out Yo La Tengo hey
There is more of this on The Warning. Their images can draw a smile (as on the chorus of “The Warning”, with its patent mismatch of violence and melancholy), or cause you to stop in your tracks. I’m thinking of “No Fit State”, where Goddard and Taylor repeat a call-and-response that travels the gamut from tongue-in-cheek to horror. Goddard chants, “I’m in no fit state”. Taylor responds, “to see my fingers bleed”, or “to act a fool in love”, or “to make the record of my life”. That’s Hot Chip for you.
But it’s when Hot Chip drops the irony and lets the listener into its empty world that the songs hit hardest. “And I Was a Boy From School” is the most resonant song on The Warning, with an effortless, Morrissey-like chorus and the swirling subject of failed love and emptiness. “(Just Like We) Breakdown” is all melancholy vocals of existential loss with a round synth line echoing the melody.
The obvious single is the superb, banging song “Over and Over”. After you’ve heard it twice, each new spin is an exercise in exquisite suspense—waiting for the buzzing guitars of the chorus, then waiting for the buzzing tune that takes it to another level about 3:45 in. It’s the most obviously DFA cut on the album, but you won’t be able to help chanting along: “Over and over… Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal / The joy of repetition really is in you.”
There’s one essential difference between Hot Chip and more mainstream peddlers in remixable electronic music. Whereas bands like Decoder Ring or Postal Service stick to this conventional build to transcendence, Hot Chip is happy to wander off in a totally unexpected direction, mid-song. It’s perhaps best illustrated on “So Glad to See You”, which starts with a texture like a drawing-room version of Decoder Ring’s “Fractions”, but veers off into beatless, meandering harmony. On another example, “Colours” morphs from a pulses of single notes into a kaleidoscopic soundscape and then into a sunny dance number, like Kings of Convenience DJ Kicks-d up. That’s why this music is both charming and interesting, and why you can listen to it many times over without the songs losing their appeal.
The Warning shows us a Hot Chip both familiar and unexpectedly progressive. If you like your dance music intelligent but still accessible, with soulful harmonies and cheeky lyrics that surprise you with moments of deep feeling, this record comes highly recommended.