Release Date: Feb 9, 2010
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Electronic
A band like Hot Chip takes a huge risk by playing it straight and conservative. That's exactly what the British synth-pop quintet has done on their fourth album, and the gamble pays off big time. Listening to their previous work, we thought their strengths were an appetite for experimentation and a cheeky knack for slipping some cleverness into dance pop.
As good as One Life Stand is, it trashes a beautiful theory I had. You see, for their first three albums, Hot Chip’s recorded output bore an uncanny correspondence to New Order’s. Coming on Strong and Movement would both prove to be slightly underwhelming, somewhat misleading preludes to far more colourful and satisfying careers, while The Warning and Power, Corruption & Lies became the closest thing each band has to a consensus classic album by broadening their emotional range and making a more serious commitment to the dancefloor.
Ever since Hot Chip started as indie kids seemingly dabbling in classic soul and modern R&B, they've been underestimated (not least of which by us). Delivering lines about "20-inch rims" and "Yo La Tengo" in a proper English accent, as they did on their 2005 debut, can have that effect. Yet on their two subsequent records-- 2006's The Warning and 2008's Made in the Dark-- Hot Chip steadily rebuilt their reputation by toughening up their sophistipop side.
Is it possible to have too many ideas? Until now it seemed as if Hot Chip were weighed down by a surfeit of cleverness. Back in 2006, the kind-hearted synth-pop of their Mercury-nominated second album The Warning suggested they might develop into a clockwork Kraftwerk, the south London quintet more interested in retaining their humanity in the face of technology than achieving the robotic efficiency of their German forebears. They were making defiantly electronic-sounding music whose concerns were soulful.
Hot Chip have always seemed older than their years, but this album, their fourth, is the one in which they grow up for real. They have always paired an ear for the dancefloor with an eye for the impenetrable lyric, their songs brimming with so much energy, so many ideas that the listener was sometimes scalded. In One Life Stand, however, everything is pared back and prised open.
The British press have developed a tedious habit of hailing Hot Chip as “Putney’s finest,” when there are far more flattering monikers you could bestow on the electro-pop quintet. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Putney, but is it really necessary to encumber such a profoundly talented group with idle references to their hometown? Theirs is a sound so distinctive that it transcends whatever London suburb birthed them. Now, four albums into a career that started in its members’ respective bedrooms, Hot Chip is faced with the task of controlling the erratic habits they developed on 2008’s Made in the Dark.
One Life Stand, Hot Chip’s fourth release, is the headliner to Made In The Dark’s opener. It takes its predecessor’s upbeat, dance-influenced elements and develops them further, pulling the simplistic synth beats of the 2008 mega-hit into deeper waters. It retains everything that was great about Made In The Dark, without all the sing-songy choruses and tweeness.
In an ideal world, the BPI would have Hot Chip tracked down and collectively shackled to a typewriter. The resulting Rough Guide to a Successful Band would be standard issue to musical daydreamers everywhere. Stage 1 – Release a first album of metronomic laptop-soul to a murmuring of critical praise. Stage 2 – Pen first crossover single, something with a big repetitive hook maybe? Stage 3 – Deftly ascend festival bills with new-and-improved major label-backing.
As probably the only dance band that can (sometimes) pull off ballads, Hot Chip have, since the one-two punch of their Warning singles (the delicate “Boy From School” and the unforgettable “Over and Over”) been engaged in an existential battle between the disparate sides of their oeuvre. Do they just abandon the DFA-beloved jocularity of their party-starting side for the slow material, or do they do the opposite and become the British version of the Rapture, relying solely on their cowbell-ed beats to get listeners interested? On the group’s third album, Made in the Dark, the band’s two sides fought, and neither won. The album was somehow overstuffed with too much of both, never finding the balance that seemed so easy on The Warning.
When thinking of Hot Chip, wonky dancefloor movers like “Over and Over” and “Ready for the Floor” are what spring to mind first. However, they’ve always balanced those songs with vulnerable moments, and their sensitive side dominates One Life Stand -- they don’t sound ready for the floor, they sound ready to settle down. Even the most energetic songs feel tempered compared to the neon energy of Made in the Dark and The Warning’s hits, and the album’s more serious feel is immediately apparent on “Thieves in the Night.
Electro-pop quintet’s latest dancefest runs hot and cold Hot Chip has always embraced paradox, juxtaposing masterfully crafted computerized tunes with heartfelt expressions of love, anger and melancholy. On the group’s fourth LP, a contradiction of substance emerges, and some of the band’s most brilliant compositions to date sit side-by-side with some of its dullest. One Life Stand’s best songs attain the elusive simpatico between catchy hooks and disarmingly earnest lyricism that make Hot Chip the thinking-man’s dance band.
Perhaps the most satisfying way to experience Hot Chip’s fourth LP is to hear it backwards, starting with the gorgeous closer Take It In. On top of the simplest of bass lines, they overlay a synth figure that sounds like something disembodied from a Depeche Mode song, complete with dissonant notes that add to the anxiety of the verse. The piece then switches gears, wiping away the industrial smog and noise and replacing it with a meadow of major key piano chords and anodyne vocal harmonies.
“Ready for the Floor” is without question, one of the best songs of the past ten years. Its bumping beats, the playful blips and beeps, the soaring melody and Alexis Taylor’s crisply sweet vocals all made up for one amazing song. And as much as it was easily the best song on Hot Chip’s Made in the Dark, it just as easily towered over everything else making the rest of the music stale in comparison.
Once they could walk on water, but here it sounds like they’re treading it. Chris Beanland 2010 We once thought Hot Chip could walk on water – but half of the songs on this album sound like a band treading it instead. So what’s happened between their last long-player, 2008’s Made in the Dark, and this new collection? The intensely likeable, clever, visionary quintet are undoubtedly one of Britain's musical success stories of the last decade, and their Mercury-nominated 2006 outing The Warning can still take your breath away with its brilliance.