Hot Chip's Alexis Taylor Flys to New Destinations on 'Beautiful Thing'
With the help of Tim Goldsworthy, of DFA and LCD Soundsystem fame, Alexis Taylor further distances himself from the Hot Chip sound, making room for a co-pilot to navigate him to new sonic destinations.
20 April 2018
For many, Alexis Taylor's, gravity-defying voice is always going to be synonymous with British electro band Hot Chip. However, his extra-curricular activities are fast catching up with his output with the alternative, electropop maestros. With three solo albums under his belt (four if you count 2017's reworking of Piano, cunningly entitled, Listen With(out) Piano) as well as the techno stylings of Fainting by Numbers and the improv band About Group, there doesn't seem to many avenues left for him to explore.
Nevertheless, On Beautiful Thing, Taylor has found the one thing that he hasn't tried before; using a producer. And not just any producer. With the help of Tim Goldsworthy, of DFA and LCD Soundsystem fame, Taylor further distances himself from the Hot Chip sound (as if there is such a thing), making room for a co-pilot to navigate him to new sonic destinations.
Overall, the new approach works admirably. There is a pervading sense that both parties have turned on the taps and let their creative mojos flows - energized by the freedom of experimentation with no outside pressures or expectations. Musically, the pair skew and scuff each other's ideas as they weave in rattling beats, manic acid-house, and M.O.R balladry, with each song anchored by Taylor's unmistakably unhurried, ruminative voice.
The scratchy opening of "Dreaming Another Life" soon gives way to the rhythmic pulse of a rudimentary beat and warped squalls of guitar noise. Taylor's plaintive voice is unmistakable, as it punctures the murky atmospheric backing. Before long the mood swells with the intensity of a gospel song as Taylor and Goldsworthy weave in electro-folk, sax and rolling synths to see it home. Each disparate musical idea integrating seamlessly into the mix.
The contemplative mood is quickly shattered by the jittering house of dancefloor stormer "Beautiful Thing". In actuality, a touching love song, the song is decked out with popping synths, splurges of white noise and sliced vocal samples. Like an acid house proton it whirs and shakes, getting the blood pumping like a lost '90s dance classic. The more mellow, "Deep Cut", gracefully glides on a simple, echoing beat and Taylor's heartfelt piano playing. A glorious R&B, electro-ballad, it highlights the range of Taylor's vocals as he pleads "don't get caught up in ideals".
"Roll on Blank Tapes" adds flurries of echoing drums and rolling synths juxtaposed with gentle piano chords and Taylor's measured, calming voice. Like much of the album its heart lies in the 1980s as Taylor nostalgically looks back at some of the criticism aimed at music and popular culture during that era with lines such as "Home taping is killing music/ Don't you know / Skateboarding was never a crime / Don't you know?" Before concluding with the line, "drum machines have got no soul".
"Suspicious of Me" quickly sweeps the listener up into a jazz-funk groove featuring gloriously spasmodic live drums. The piano ballad, "A Hit Song" would have, unsurprisingly, fitted perfectly on his Piano album. Taylor sounds particularly vulnerable as he wistfully opens the song with the lines "I need a hit song / Straight to your heart song / Maybe I'm headstrong / But I need to prove." Unexpectedly lost, he sounds as if he has slammed into the creative buffers with the desperate attempts at making a connection through his music becoming its own inspiration.
The piano-led glam stomp of "Oh Baby" shimmies and struts like Paul McCartney fronting Big Star. It's a frothy, upbeat track. The kind of song that would have dominated AM radio in the 1970s. "There's Nothing to Hide" is the perfect flipside as bluesy wah-wah guitar and sweeping electronics flow like the rise and fall of the ocean. "I Feel You" sounds like a lost Beatles ballad with Taylor sounding more like McCartney than ever.
Closer "Out of Time" sounds fittingly like a song played over the credits of an '80s movie. Heavily influenced by Prince, Taylor sounds as confused as he ever has. His voice sounding uncharacteristically adrift, shorn of the more experimental elements that dominate the first half of the record.
Beautiful Thing is Taylor's most rounded and intriguing solo work to date. The various aspects of Taylor's musical personality are covered but with a new found confidence and desire to take chances. The risk that Taylor has taken by allowing Goldsworthy to frame his vocals with bold, electronic experiments is an inspired one. A path you would hope that he will investigate further on future releases - whatever they may be.