Album Review: Hot Chip – In Our Heads [Domino]
One of the greatest challenges about the dance music genre is how easily things can become stale. If dance artists aren’t consistently evolving from record to record, they’re prone to stagnation and may fizzle out. Don’t ever let the beat drop or let your audience get bored. James Murphy as LCD Soundsystem played his cards almost exactly right, crafting three of the best dance records so far this decade, each one building off the previous one, before calling it quits at the top of his game. Not every attempt at reinvention works out though, as best evidenced by Justice’s most recent effort Audio, Video, Disco, which boldly sought to bring bits of 70′s prog-rock into their club-heavy, pop single sound. Nice thought, but the end result was far weaker than it could have been.
Hot Chip probably fall towards the middle of the pack when it comes to building a successful career in dance music. Their 2005 debut album Coming On Strong was filled with smarmy bedroom pop, the kind that needed work instrumentally but was quite funny lyrically. Building off that, 2006′s The Warning hit almost all the right notes and generated hits like “Boy From School” and “Over and Over.” That trend continued on 2008′s Made in the Dark, though it peppered in more mature themes and slower balladry to calm the waters a bit. Such an adjustment suggested they were growing up, but the end results were more mixed and off-balance, like a teen going through puberty. 2010′s One Life Stand was the band’s full-on attempt at maturity and adulthood. It was a skillfully moderated meditation on love and settling down and the pleasure one could derive from that, and many loved how well it balanced the band’s celebratory and fun side with something calmer and more mature. Others balked under the impression that a more domesticated and ballad-dominant version of Hot Chip wasn’t what they signed up for based on their earlier material. In the time since that last record, band members took time out to work on some side projects. About Group, The 2 Bears and New Build were the three results, and while each carved their own distinct paths musically, they all had one thing in common: an upbeat and playful demeanor.
Thankfully, that seems to be where the members of Hot Chip’s heads are on their new album In Our Heads. This past March, Joe Goddard said in an interview that they intended for the album to exude “positivity.” That means an increase in tempos and moods and a return to some of the dance-addled style their first couple records played up so well. This time though, the band isn’t retreating so much as they are refining. The lessons learned in One Life Stand are not lost, but incorporated into the album both lyrically and in how some of the songs are structured. The electro-funk of “How Do You Do?” might function as the best distillation of what the entire record is about, with a chorus that includes the line, “You make me want to live again.” “Dont Deny Your Heart” smartly lays out a case for why a partner should “say yes” to love, using an 80′s-style synth pop base to make it that much more memorable.
Perhaps the greatest moments on In Our Heads come from the longest songs. It’s not because they’re long that makes them good, it just so happens to work out that way. The seven minutes of “Flutes” makes for one of the darkest yet most exciting tracks on the album. It’s a swirling techno beast that morphs into this shining dance party pillar before you can fully grasp what’s going on. Hot Chip have never made a song quite like it before, and it speaks exceptionally well towards their continuing evolution as a band. The same can be said for “Let Me Be Him,” which brilliantly skirts the line between ballad and dance track by placing a soft rock melody atop skittering beats. The longer it glides, the more beautiful it becomes, eventually breaking down into bird chirps and spaced out electric guitars that will make you salivate with sheer passion. Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor’s vocals swim in these fertile waters and set the right tone thanks to a line like, “My soul, my love is running away with me.” Played differently, the song could very well have fallen into the realm of excess or even poorly concocted parody. Its escape from such a fate only makes it stronger.
For those that prefer their Hot Chip funky and loud, as on a past single like “Ready for the Floor,” In Our Heads has “Night & Day” for your enjoyment. The groove is built around a wobbly bass line, and the chorus splits open with some laser-guided synths that send things into the stratosphere. Hot Chip’s trademark humor is well in place too, and if the video for the song doesn’t cause you to crack a smile, hopefully the deadpan faux rapping during the bridge will. “These Chains” also does excellent work by playing the darker cousin of “Boy From School,” quietly pulsating as Taylor and Goddard trade verses and harmonize with one another. It’s one of the record’s more subtle numbers, but pay close enough attention and you’ll find it sticking with you far longer than expected.
The greatest thing about In Our Heads is how ecstatic and joyful Hot Chip sound from start to finish. As One Life Stand could be a bit of a drag for those seeking the band that churns out dance hit after dance hit, that album remains a necessary step in their continued growth. Finally reaching maturity and adulthood doesn’t always mean putting away childish things though. In fact, maintaining a positive attitude and staying active can help keep you young. That seems to be the lesson the band is trying to teach us with this record. Even as they sing about love and holding onto the key relationships in your life, they’re still compelled to craft melodies that bring a euphoria of a different sort. Whether that pleasure lasts a minute or a lifetime, Hot Chip seem intent on spreading and sharing it with us. We should consider ourselves lucky.