Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Record Review: Hot Chip

Hot Chip
Made In the Dark
NQL Rating System Rating: Very Good (Trust us; this is not the only score available in the NQL Rating System. We just happen to only listen to very good albums.)

I listen to music as part of my search for truth and beauty, as a reflection of what I feel but cannot myself express. Be that reflection musical or lyrical it matters not; what matters is that I feel it, or more appropriately, that someone makes me feel it. At heart, and though at times I might declare differently, I'm a lyrics guy. I wouldn't trade ten "Bros" for one "I wouldn't trade one stupid decision for another five years of life." That said, it's a precipitous drop from lyrical subtlety to lyrical banality, and Hot Chip have always toed the escarpment's edge. But when music and words work to buttress one another--as they do on Made In the Dark, Hot Chip's schizoid third album--I tend to find what I'm searching for.

Beginning in a torrent of guitar drone (strangely reminiscent of that heard on Fugazi's Red Medicine), crescendoing synths, crowd noise, and (finally) a hype beat, "Out at the Pictures" heralds the direction I'd hoped Hot Chip would go--darker, bigger, catchier songs with deceptively sharp lyrics that trick you because they appear to be afterthoughts--a direction continued with vigor on "Shake a Fist" (which includes a cringe/shame-inducing sample: get those headphones cranked up, motherfuckers, get 'em cranked) and the beguiling "Ready for the Floor." Another welcome element seemingly at odds with the largesse of the first third of Dark is the more minimal slant of "Bendable Poseable," "One Pure Thought," "Wrestlers," and bona fide head-nodder "Don't Dance." But just cuz it's minimal, doesn't mean it's not big or can't go pop (cf. The Field, Matthew Dear, Michael Mayer).

And, as this is a Hot Chip record, we're treated to a few electrosoul ballads, and it's in these songs where Hot Chip's unfussy lyrics shine: "Every time that we walk the streets / I try my best to keep up with the beat. / You're everything I never could keep," sings Alexis Taylor on "We're Looking For a Lot of Love," eliciting the alone-with-others mindset of the earbud-stuffed iPod generation who can't seem to go anywhere without a beat to walk to (guilty). This lyrical simplicity can also work to Hot Chip's disadvantage, as it does in the title track, a lachrymose, maudlin, uncharacteristically organic number that veers too close to RJD2/Third Hand territory for my liking. Peculiarly, and despite itself, "Made In the Dark" has the album's most memorable melody--something about the naked sentimentalism is attractive and striking. Also oddly charming is the latent pugilism evident in "Hold On" ("Sir, I have a mind to take you outside") and "Wrestlers" ("the gloves are off;" litany of wrestling moves, natch).

The most glaring missteps--"Touch Too Much," "Whistle For Will," and Smiths-referencing "The Privacy of Our Love" (that's short-i privacy)--are thankfully backloaded, and notwithstanding the somewhat padded middle section, there's plenty to love about Made In the Dark: the jaunty disco-funk of "Hold On" and its retarded/awesome declaration that "I'm only going to heaven if it tastes like caramel;" the hilariously cheeky last two minutes of "Wrestlers;" the way Taylor and bandmate Joe Goddard harmonize; the Stop Making Sense-vintage synths used throughout.

Ultimately, Dark suffers only slightly because it can't decide what it wants to be when it grows up. Minimal techno? Ballads album? The Warning v2.0? No matter: A band this talented, a band that can regurgitate so many different styles and make them almost cohere, is worth a little frustration.

--Brian Herrmann


Alex said...

If we reviewed album covers, this particular one would not be blessed with a "Very Good" rating.

Travis said...

What? You can't view the awesome red image in the center of the circle?

Oh no.......

You can't fly jets, Alex.

Alex said...

Is there really something there? Man, my eyes are terrible. I need to find a hill to run down and sulk for a bit.

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