Hot Chip: Coming on Strong

Tim O'Neil

Hot Chip have a number of influences on their minds, but unfortunately they don't gel very well at all.

Hot Chip

Coming on Strong

Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2005-11-29
UK Release Date: 2004-05-24
Amazon affiliate

I suppose we can blame the Beta Band. Although the '90s were notable for the ease with which genres were crossed and spliced, the Beta Band rose to initial success on a more holistic eclecticism than that practiced by the likes of Beck. It didn't always work, which was certainly a contributing factor in the Band's recent break-up, but when it did it was magnificent. Little did we know at the time that the sound the Betas pioneered at the fin de siecle would become one of the defining sounds of the new decade. Unfortunately, the Betas would have little to do with the success of their own template beyond the initial success of their Three EPs record.

But here we are in the waning days of 2005, and the previously inviolate boundaries between disparate genres such as acoustic folk and electronic dance have basically become meaningless. Before Bright Eyes had even recorded an electronic album (and a pretty good one, too), groups like the Junior Boys and the Postal Service, in addition to hip-hop oriented acts like Atmosphere and Sage Francis, had broken down the borders and rose to prominence on the strength of distinctive cross-genre exploration. The fact that these groups are hardly considered experimental or outré is a testament to the fact that we've essentially entered an era where genre distinctions have become meaningless. Blame Beck, blame the Betas, blame motherfucking Kid Rock -- it's a post-modern world, we just live in it.

All of which is a roundabout way of approaching Hot Chip's Coming on Strong. Which is to say, it's a difficult album to approach. The Beta Band comparison seems quite accurate, however, in light of the fact that the Beta's unique melange didn't work easily as often as it did. Hot Chip have a number of influences on their minds, but unfortunately they don't seem to gel very well at all. I wish I could say that it was a weakness in conception, but unfortunately more often than not it seems to be a weakness in execution.

To put it bluntly, Coming on Strong does nothing of the sort. Beginning with "Take Care", the group lays on a mixture of lurching, awkwardly off-kilter computer beats set against odd melodic elements, including processed acoustic guitars, cheesy synthesizers and kazoos (there's a kazoo coda on "Keep Fallin'"). As much as you want the mixture to work, to see the various elements to come together into something more inspiring, it just never does.

A lot of the blame can probably be laid at the feet of the uninspired vocals. Alexis Taylor (male, despite the name) sings in a delicate falsetto reminiscent of later Paul McCartney, while Joe Goddard's baritone speak-singing rarely rises above the level of faux-ironic bathos. Take "Playboy", in which Taylor's fragile, love-lorn lead vocal is juxtaposed against Goddard's absurd Nate Dogg-by-way-of-Goldie Lookin' Chain chorus:

"Driving in my Peugeot, yay-ay,
Twenty-inch rims with the chrome now, yay-ay,
Blazing out Yo La Tengo, yay-ay,
Driving 'round Putley with the top down, yay-ay.

The group relies on a mixture of odd synthesizer sounds and weird samples to convey depth-of-field. The problem is that this type of multi-layered effect is difficult to pull off, otherwise everyone would have been able to produce a Pet Sounds by now. As it is, most of the album sounds sparse, and when it tries to build into something bigger it seems slightly forced, as if disparate elements were being unsuccessfully mated. It gives the impression of being slightly out-of-tune, even when it isn't.

The Beta Band comparison was by no means a random association. There's a unique mixture of authentic pathos and ironic, slightly silly detachment that comes across in pieces like "Shining Escalade" that is definitely cut from the same cloth as the Betas' more cheeky moments. Appropriating outré hip-hop imagery in the service of ostensibly romantic ballads is an old trick. Is there a law somewhere mandating that cross-generic postmodern songwriters must also posses an ironic sense of humor?

At its best, Coming on Strong sounds like a lukewarm Postal Service, and at its worst it sounds like Goldie Lookin' Chain (whom I like, but of whom it must be said that one is enough). The problem is that while neither of these touchstones are necessarily bad, you get the feeling Hot Chip thinks they've got a lot more going on than they actually do. The material on display here is really remarkably thin -- more like a demo, as opposed to a major release from one of the country's leading semi-independent music labels. There's a modicum of potential here, but extracting the diamonds from the rough might require a much stronger guiding hand than is evident.






The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.