It’s time to talk about Hot Chip‘s perpetually classy live show. Continue reading Still chipper
I thought One Life Stand would surely stand the test of time as the acme of Hot Chip‘s love affair with love. Just look at that title! With its lush, soulful electro-pop about monogamy and brotherhood, it seemed to set a benchmark that I didn’t think the band would try and beat. And yet. Continue reading Hot Chip — In Our Heads
“One day you might realise / That you might need to open your eyes.”
We know a fair bit about Hot Chip‘s love of wonky, garage, and house. We know this from songs like “Don’t Dance”, “Bendable Poseable” and “We Have Love”, and we know this from Joe Goddard’s various side-projects, like The 2 Bears. On Hot Chip’s last album, One Life Stand, they sounded sometimes exhilarating, frequently lovestruck, and occasionally like they were sweatily getting down on the dancefloor. But they never conjured up all these moods at the same time.
Our first taste of what Hot Chip in 2012 sounds like comes via “Flutes” (see above, in a head-spinning in-studio video). At once euphoric and romantic—perhaps that’s a symptom of the cheesy cut-up vocal sample, overlaid with warm analogue bass and chords—the song builds and builds, taking on new and exciting layers of vocals, synths both arpeggiated and wailing, and pulsating percussion. It’s like a carnival, walking through a renewal of one’s marital vows.
That this marathon workout never collapses or feels like it’s treading ground is evidence of Hot Chip’s maturity as songwriters, which has progressed even further since One Life Stand. On that album, they constructed sweet pop songs with interesting production and instrumentation; on “Flutes”, they’re pushing the boundaries of pop music, with a composition that travels round the world and is still back home in time for supper. The roly-poly electric piano finale is the icing on the cake.
The big news first: there’s a new Hot Chip album coming in June, and you can’t even believe how excited I am about that. In Your Heads drops in via Domino Records, and it’s going to have a hard job matching, let alone topping, the brilliance of One Life Stand. I praised that album’s lush pop sensibility, and the way it introduced old-fashioned romance to high-tech electro.
Hot Chip have matured into a bit of a national treasure: they write solid songs that are impeccably produced, and then tour them to within an inch of their lives, reinventing the arrangements every night. I think In Your Heads is going to be Mk. II of the Hot Chip lover’s Hot Chip album.
The band’s sudden burst of productivity has not been limited to the core unit, however. There have been spin-off acts aplenty, the most publicised of which is The 2 Bears (Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and his mate Raf Rundell, dressed up in comedy furry bear outfits, making big-tent dance music). Now there is also New Build, which features Al Doyle (vest-wearing, bespectacled, also moonlighted in LCD Soundsystem) and Felix Martin (messes around with drum machines and synths at the back of the stage). They used to be called Lanark; they’ve spent five years making the album that will be called Yesterday Was Lived & Lost.
Judging by songs like “Mercy” (see above) and “Finding Reasons“, New Build manage to be both icier and more tropical than Hot Chip. The synth pads have a crystallised sheen that screams 1980s art gallery opening, and the pair’s vocals are detached and aloof; on the other hand, loose-limbed percussion runs amok, and Doyle’s scratchy electric guitar jumps up throughout. It all sounds rather promising—like the love-child of Tom Tom Club and Yazoo.
Hot Chip’s In Your Heads is released on 11th June, on Domino Records. New Build’s Yesterday Was Lived & Lost is released on 5th March, on Lanark.
This time last year, I bored you all to death with my fifteen favourite albums of 2009. At the time, I suggested my list was not very useful because I had spent much of the year catching up on older music thanks to Spotify.
A year on, plus ça change. A friend told me he was surprised to see Fleetwood Mac extremely high on the list of most-listened to music on Spotify. I told him I was probably the reason behind this.
Nevertheless, for (non)completists’ sake, I shall persist with this probably pointless exercise. It might give you some weird insight into my warped tastes, at least.
Because I don’t wish to look like a slacker, you can also expect me to publish a list with albums I will get round to listening to in the near future. Continue reading Under-informed profligacy – Favourite Albums of 2010
Have I missed you? Greatly. Have I abandoned you depuis longtemps? Too right. Have I been selling my wares on Twitter and Tumblr like a woman of the night? Sadly, yes. Am I back here for good? Let’s hope so.
Enough of the rhetoric. I’ve cherry-picked seven fine albums from the first quarter of this year, and given them a brief bit of spiel extolling my love for them. Oh, and they’re kind of in an order of preference, which, I can assure you, was a challenge.
1. Transference – Spoon. In which the masters of concision pretended to loosen up a little, making a work of carefully considered ragged beauty. From the hesitant organ drone pulsing through opener “Before Destruction”, to the distant, measured funk of “Nobody Gets Me But You”, Transference makes every hyped lo-fi band seem overly amateur in their efforts – Jim Eno and Britt Daniel have laboured night and day to give their latest baby the kind of off-the-cuff aesthetic that only painstaking production can really pull off. Songs end abruptly, mid-phrase; Britt Daniel’s vocals are warped and garbled to heighten our disorientation. It’s an exercise in melancholy as art form.
2. Contra – Vampire Weekend. Gone are the campus tales of fun and frolicking that was the backdrop to my first year at university. In their stead are a range of musically ambitious, lyrically sophisticated compositions that are undoubtedly a bit less fun, but substantially more far-reaching. This, as I wrote previously, is about Ivy League graduates going out into the real world and discovering how out-of-touch they are. It’s there in the wistful, nostalgic tone of “Taxi Cab” and “Diplomat’s Son”; at the same time, Contra also has its fair share of zany pop moments, in the riotous early Police ska-punk of “Cousins” and the typeface-referencing “Holiday”. Contra is probably a superior creation to Vampire Weekend, even if it’s a bit less immediate and catchy.
3. Sisterworld – Liars. Not since their début have Liars made an album so song-focused as this, their self-confessed L.A. record. Sisterworld is sinister and twisted, and boasts the kind of gothic creepiness even Nick Cave shies away from nowadays. It’s scary stuff, especially when frontman Angus Andrew screams “AND THEN KILL THEM ALL!” in the middle of “Scarecrows On A Killer Slant”. Elsewhere, the three-piece explore tight, muscular grooves (which go all motorik on “Proud Evolution”), and then suddenly veer into hazy near-instrumentals like “Drip”. Sisterworld reminds me of a more focused cousin of Deerhunter’s excellent Microcastle, albeit with the shoegazey moments being interspersed more evenly through the record, as opposed to being clumped together in the middle. Throughout, Liars display their usual dark humour that can make the listener wince, and then grin with wild, untamed delight.
4. Plastic Beach – Gorillaz. Possibly the finest Gorillaz album yet – though Demon Days set the bar very high last time round. The tenuous narrative arc is now quite removed from the music (preferring instead to manifest itself through the packaging, the online experience, and every other marketing avenue Albarn/Hewlett/EMI can explore), and the songs are probably all the better for it. Albarn hasn’t made such a startling variety of great pop music for a very long time – at least, not in one single artistic endeavour – and the breadth and depth of Plastic Beach is startling. On “White Flag”, he crosses extremely authentic Arabic orchestral arrangements with 8-bit grime; standout track “Sweepstakes” pits a multi-tracked Mos Def against polyrhythmic vibes and brass. You couldn’t make this stuff up. The only real mis-step is on 80s-synth-pop-by-numbers “On Melancholy Hill”, but even this has its charms, I suppose. The jury’s out on whether Plastic Beach does better when Albarn sings, or when he gets his Rolodex out. For me, I think the two sides of Gorillaz’ craft are now so utterly complete that it doesn’t really matter. This is the kind of intelligent pop music that reassures the chequebooks of EMI bigwigs, and also appeases music critics who were a bit suspicious of Albarn’s doubtless artistic largesse. I’ve said this a lot, but he’s a true polymath, and the proof is plain to see on Plastic Beach.
5. One Life Stand – Hot Chip. One criticism levelled at this fourth album from the south London electro-geeks is that it’s too saccharine; too lovestruck. To me, that’s a strength, not a failing. Yes, the in-jokes were dead funny on their previous three albums (“I’m sick of motherfuckers tryna tell me that they’re down with Prince” was one particularly witty lyric), but this time round, Hot Chip have finally realised that they are the true inheritors of our long heritage of great songwriters – to the list that includes Paul McCartney and Robert Wyatt, we can now append the names Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor. One Life Stand is built around a middle triplet of songs that are, yes, slushy, but that shouldn’t take away from their undoubted beauty and heartfelt emotion. They write great love songs, and they just so happen to perform them with predominantly electronic instruments. Why should that be so irreconcilable? And why don’t more bands use steel drums to such great effect?!
6. There Is Love In You – Four Tet. Not an album of dance music per se, but certainly an album of music you can tap your feet to, and swivel about in your office chair. The last album I said that about was Battles’ Mirrored, and indeed, Kieran Hebden’s long-awaited fifth LP shares with that album a sense of playfulness and joy at the primal essence of being alive, and connected to technology in a totally organic way. There Is Love In You practically bounces through your headphones, so enraptured is it with the thrill of existence.
7. Field Music (Measure) – Field Music. If you go on hiatus because you feel your music probably has too limited an audience, it’s generally considered surprising to return with a 70-minute double album that decants late period Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan into a heady cocktail. Nonetheless, this is what the brothers Brewis have chosen to do, and, happily Measure just about pulls it off, bearing testament to their vaulting ambition and artistic integrity. There are definitely weaker bits (the final quarter is overly bucolic and pastoral, if I’m being picky), but when Field Music shift into the correct gear on Measure, they really are at the top of their (admittedly niche) game. Songs like “All You’d Ever Need To Say” and “The Wheels Are In Place” are taut and structurally complex, and yet still fit into miraculously brief passages of time. The musicianship is unparalleled, the vocal harmonies are typically glistening, and it’s wonderful to have them back.
Themes of marriage and commitment work surprisingly well in music that isn’t rock. In “My Love”, Justin Timberlake asks if his girl would “date him on the regular” and refers to a “ring” that “represents his heart”, over one of the finest R&B tracks in my lifetime. More recently, Beyoncé used “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” to implore young men to make that commitment, in order to prevent the pains of post-breakup jealousy. Conversely, in rock music, similar subjects all-too often fall flat and limp and mawkish. It’s little wonder some of my favourite music is so dark, because an awful lot of empowering music is unavoidably dull and derivative.
Hot Chip fall neatly into this marital R&B turf, boasting an array of catchy hooks and melodies that would function just as well were they not to be serviced by an arsenal of squelching synths and chart-reflecting beats. Their music veers exceptionally close to soul, and also to the idiosyncratic songwriting of Robert Wyatt and Paul McCartney, albeit with a modern instrumental bent. Following the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach taken on 2008’s Made In The Dark, the band has toured relentlessly, refocused, and emerged with a triumphantly mature new record, entitled One Life Stand. No more a bachelor, and now encumbered by the responsibilities of fatherhood, frontman Alexis Taylor has helped forge an album that is considerably more pruned down, and lacking the quirky excesses that previously plagued some of their weaker material.
One Life Stand is… solid. In places, as on the New Order-ish opener, “Thieves In The Night”, it is inspired. Elsewhere, it sees the band knuckle down and write richly melodic and warming songs about the joys of companionship and brotherhood. The album’s opening quartet of songs recall various eras of dance music – synth pop, disco, house, piano-stomping Motown. To the band’s credit, it never sounds too well-trodden, and, in the title track, they re-earn the truly great electro-pop crown previously bestowed upon “Ready For The Floor” and “Over And Over”.
Then, the band tones thing down for a middle section that some will find… slushy (sorry!), but other will cherish for its broad and smile-inducing balladry. Of particular interest is the afore-referenced “Slush”, which emerges from a bizarre vocal warm-up exercise and takes a while to get going. But when it does, it is properly good, and fashioned from a very McCartney II-esque mould. Four minutes in, a beautifully subtle brass arrangement combines with almost tear-jerking steel drum, creating a final two-and-half minutes of downbeat, melancholy yet utterly compelling music which defies genre. As the song is swallowed up by a foetal fog of atmosphere dust, you would be a cold-hearted creature not to be touched by it in some way.
The final three tracks see a return to Hot Chip’s preoccupation with electronic music. “We Have Love” is shadowy and danceable, and unfolds like a less crazy version of the last album’s “Don’t Dance”; “Keep Quiet” is sinister and rides along vaguely tropical percussion and synth glows that would not have gone amiss on the Fever Ray album. Finally, we are left with the triumphant house of “Take It In”, which performs the band’s great trick of shifting suddenly from a faintly worrying minor-key verse to an anthemic major-key chorus, with precision-honed perfection.
One Life Stand will probably bore a lot of listeners. It doesn’t radically alter the landscape of quasi-dance music; it doesn’t permit the band to indulge in their more insane electronic compositions. Instead, favouring a more subtle strategy of writing more-than-competent pop songs, the band’s new focus and concision pays great dividends. Never messy or sprawling, One Life Stand is a well-sequenced work that never outstays its welcome, and I think Hot Chip have finally created an album-lover’s album.
Much as I enjoyed Hot Chip’s third album, Made In The Dark, I’ll admit that it was a slightly cluttered, claustrophobic listen. There was a lot going on in some of the tracks – “Shake A Fist” and “Don’t Dance” in particular – and though this was offset by the sparser, more low-key numbers (the title track, for instance, was a masterpiece of concision), the overall vibe was very busy and slightly unfocused. Which is why I’m very excited by the literature surrounding the band’s forthcoming fourth album, entitled One Life Stand because a range of sources have suggested that it will be a more stripped-down and focused affair – an album’s album, if you will.
The album’s release is being preceded by a digital release of the title track which, in truncated form, occupies a radio-friendly three-and-a-half-minutes. And it’s a great pop song, in the catchy mould of “Ready For The Floor”, albeit with an added jaggedness and bite. “Tell me where you’ve been… where you’ve been staying” whispers Alexis Taylor in his most conspiratorial tone, backed by clattering steel drums and a synth line rich in overtones. After a time, synth-wizard Joe Goddard pipes in with a somewhat supernatural moan which continues throughout the chorus, followed by one of the most glorious, buzzing synth melodies I’ve heard in a long time. “One Life Stand” is foreboding and seductive; its relatively simplistic structure belies the love of pop music beating at its core. It’s a wonderful addition to the band’s catalogue of cult classics, and I really do expect it to break high into the charts.
Hot Chip – One Life Stand (embedding disabled by Parlophone, joyless souls that they are)