Release Date: Jun 10, 2014
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It feels like Hot Chip fans are finally comfortable with frontman Alexis Taylor’s solo side hustle, and so is he with Await Barbarians. 2008’s Rubbed Out was awesome in its ability to showcase Taylor’s reach beyond the confines of his group’s cult following. Await Barbarians continues that sentiment only more refined—the first single “Elvis Has Left the Building” being a prime example in all of its pleasantly subdued glory.
For those of you in class who weren’t paying attention, it’s more or less a year and a half since Alexis Taylor’s last solo release. Back then, the consensus was that the even title Nayim From The Halfway Line was an exercise in levity; one that did not, across the four tracks of retrophilic cut-and-paste samples that made up the EP, reflect a particular desire of Taylor’s to honour through song the miraculous feat of a retired Spanish journeyman footballer. ?It was the irreverent and insouciant sabbatical of an artist fresh from making Hot Chip’s fifth album, In Our Heads; an artist content to produce music for music’s sake.
Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor's second solo release is a record for sleepless nights, an introspective wandering that shoots off incoherent musings at nobody in particular. It's spacey and big, but delicately intimate. Everything sounds so close, while leaving room to breathe..
On Await Barbarians, Alexis Taylor takes another break from Hot Chip's brisk electro-pop, delivering more of the confessional songwriting that graced 2008's Rubbed Out. The album's largely acoustic arrangements put Taylor's lyrics in the spotlight, allowing him to dive deeper into the concerns that his main band's latter-day albums have touched on in ways that are more developed, and more intimate, than his solo debut. "New Hours" celebrates building a family; "From the Halfway Line" is a melancholy reflection on middle age; and "Closer to the Elderly" sketches out growing up and growing old in a few simple, consistently rhyming lines.
When Hot Chip aren't busy making alternative electronica together, they keep things fresh with a profusion of outside collaborations - like a sort of mild-mannered clubland Wu-Tang Clan. Indeed, if you go to their website you'll find a section labeled 'extracurricular' that catalogues the various side-projects which have sprung up in their wake; a list that's grown in recent years to include 2 Bears, New Build and About Group - as well as solo LP's from both Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor. But while Goddard's effort (2009's Harvest Festival) took an amiable if somewhat expected diversion toward electro, his co-frontman's output has been more erratic and unquantifiable.
As the softly spoken mastermind – more or less – behind Hot Chip, Alexis Taylor’s voice has usually been bolstered with the often club-infused tracks his band makes; so much so, in fact, that the contrast of his lilting melodies with the build and drop of the punchier numbers in his band’s back catalogue could be the single greatest thing about them. Take that pounding magic away and you’re left with a frail sounding introvert – as happy to record a track such as Piano Ducks (a solo piano piece with, well, ducks on top) as he is to confess about his soul, relationships or personal uncertainties (New Hours, Am I Not A Soldier?). Taylor’s voice is equally as disarming as it is in Hot Chip, it’s just that – and this is possibly a deal breaker – there’s such delicate and minimal instrumentation behind the vocals, if you’re not sold on them it’s hard to focus on anything else.
Hot Chip have always been as revered for their more languid, reflective qualities as they have been for their dancefloor anthems. For every Over & Over or Night And Day, there’s a Look After Me or Look At Where We Are. While it may be simplistic to deem Joe Goddard responsible for ‘bangers’ and Alexis Taylor responsible for ‘ballads’, their respective solo careers would seem to lend this theory some weight.
Alexis Taylor's extracurricular projects tend to travel far away from his day job in Hot Chip – About Group, say, takes cues from improv jazz. This second Taylor solo outing remains blithely unclassifiable – pop, folk, but mostly none of the above. You'll recognise Taylor's sweet voice on easy-going tracks like Without a Crutch (2) or Am I Not a Soldier?, but Await Barbarians is often beatless and unelectronic, sparse and meditative.
Alexis Taylor is enjoying a productive break from Hot Chip, making another record with jazz improvisers About Group last year and now chipping in with his second solo album. He’s wiped away all traces of the day job here: ‘Await Barbarians’ is largely beatless and almost completely devoid of immediacy. It’s not without charm – the needle-jump static of ‘Dolly And Porter’ gently drives a sweet melody; stroboscopic flickers of synth make a gripping arrangement for ‘Closer To The Elderly’ – but too often it’s just Taylor’s fragile voice cooing drab, introspective mantras over sparse electric piano.
In between creating albums of indelible, secretly smart dance-pop, the members of Hot Chip have indulged in solo projects that focus on specific aspects of the band’s sound. These projects are sometimes reminiscent of Hot Chip, while almost always stopping short of the band's classic sound. Both on his own and as part of house-loving duo the 2 Bears, Joe Goddard has explored the group's beat-driven, clubby side, while Al Doyle and Felix Martin have zeroed in on dance’s comedown moments, first with the stately, short-lived Lanark (whose elegant “The Stone the Builder Rejected” appeared on Hot Chip’s excellent DJ-Kicks mix from 2007) and then as part of the more downtempo New Build project.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. It is impossible to avoid the high expectations that come with a solo record from the frontman of a band as important as Hot Chip. Their brand of skittering bleeps and blips is effectively the noughties indie-pop scene embodied, with every album possessing such a solid foundation in danceable grooves that their music appeals to both the chart-buyers and the blogosphere muso's.
Recent history has not been as kind as it should have been to Alexis Taylor. He is fated to be remembered as the lead singer of Hot Chip throughout the never-ending spiral of time, so you’d be excused for forgetting his first solo album, 2008’s Rubbed Out, his foray into DJing, or his two other group collaborations, all on the basis of hearing his vehemently unique voice and shuttling back immediately to the familiar home base of Hot Chip. It doesn’t help that his band has been instrumental in carving out the emphatic, quasi-religious chorus of electronic pop music either.
The follow-up to his previous solo LP, ‘Rubbed Out’, released all the way back in 2008, ‘Await Barbarians’ strikes a bold contrast to Alexis Taylor’s most memorable work, in Hot Chip and About Group. Assuredly, the record sees him playing to his strengths, wrapping intricate, yet uncomplicated structures around his ever-beautiful vocal. ‘From The Half-Way Line’ opens as if it’s been dropped across from Neil Young’s ‘On The Beach’ in a bold way.