Yes, it's true, the most famous band from Canada is Rush. But don't hold that against Hot Hot Heat. While the prog-rock trio is beloved by Canadians and Americans alike with degrees in computer science, they are still trying to make a dent elsewhere. Let's hope that in the near future most people associate Canadian music with Hot Hot Heat (and Neil Young). Make Up the Breakdown is the band's debut full-length album, and it's a great way to start off a career. Hot Hot Heat come on as the northern version of the American punk/funk revival currently going on in New York City and Washington, D.C., with '80s new wave sounds mixing with raw guitars. But the group often goes beyond that label, making danceable rock music as influenced by XTC, early Cure and U2 as they are by Gang of Four.
Hot Hot Heat place themselves with The Dismemberment Plan and Interpol as some of the most accessible and brightest indie groups that are hovering just under the national radar. But if the Strokes and White Stripes can catch on, Hot Hot Heat may not be far behind thanks to the 10 great songs on their new album. "Oh, Goddamnit" is the only song that actually sounds like the Strokes, but with more funk thanks to its clean, propulsive bass and Television-influenced guitar lines. "No, Not Now" reflects the band's '80s synth-rock influences, and it's catchy as all get out with a butt-shaking rhythm and lyrics (including their delivery) that harken back to early U2. "Nobody likes a child who complains / And I won't be that child anymore" are reminiscent of Bono's Boy era ruminations on the pains of adolescence.
"This Town" is the catchiest song on the album and should be the feel-good summer hit on the radio. Too bad the album was released in October. I'm willing to bet no music director at any major radio station in the country will have the savvy to play it. But with a head-bobbing groove, infectious melodies and sing-along chorus, the song deserves to be heard and enjoyed by a wide audience.
Hot Hot Heat pay tribute to the Cure with "In Cairo" (the title reflects the Cure's "Fire in Cairo" off of Boys Don't Cry), which closes the album and is the lone slow tempo song. And yes, these Canadians pay tribute to their famous prog-rock counterparts -- albeit a short one -- with a quick Rush-like keyboard solo thrown in on "Get In or Get Out". Lazy comparisons to the Strokes and Whites Stripes -- indie bands that have drawn the ire of hipsters who once championed their unknown albums -- have been made, but not necessarily in sound. The bands share a common thread of instant likeability, as each band is very different, but very obvious charisma pours forth from each of their songs. Hot Hot Heat do maintain indie cred thanks to past work with producer Chris Walla, guitarist/organist for indie mainstays Death Cab for Cutie.
Being from the Pacific Northwest has its privileges, and the Victoria, British Columbia-based Hot Hot Heat hooked up with Walla and legendary grunge producer Jack Endino for their debut. Endino has worked with early '90s hard rock/punk luminaries Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, but he allows Hot Hot Heat to craft their own sound without the slightest hint of the signature "grunge" influence. With Make Up the Breakdown, these Canadians clearly stake their place alongside the bevy of good guitar-rock bands that are bubbling up. Let's hope the trend -- and the band -- continues to build on this solid foundation.