Monday, February 17, 2014

Hot Chip - Made In The Dark (Original TC Review)

Astralwerks: 2008

(2014 Update:
Remember when it was
bands that was to rescue EDM from the '00s doldrums? Man, critical darlings like LCD Soundsystem, The Klaxons, and Hot Chip were all the rage in 2008, earning magazine covers and high scores alike. Then David Guetta broke America, soon followed by dubstep's explosion of popularity, and everyone subsequently forgot about bands again. Well, not exactly. Acts like Hot Chip appealed to an older crowd, whereas the nu-EDM appealed to the youngin's out there, and as with all things, it's the youthful movements that'll dictate general cultural trends - easier to market to, y'see.

Hot Chip still had a successful follow-up in 2010 to this album though,
One Life Stand; I'd even started a review of it before I gave up the writing gig for a couple years (more reasons for this forthcoming in two weeks!). In 2012, they released In Our Heads, which passed by with little fanfare. Guess folks (kids?) weren't buying what they were selling anymore, although I hear they're still kick-ass live. If they include ample tunes from this album in their set lists, I wouldn't doubt it.)


IN BRIEF: Peppy.

Truthfully, bands in electronic dance culture aren’t terribly new. It arguably all started with a four-piece act (Kraftwerk), and has seen many former rockers go digital over the years. Still, the general image most have of the live show revolves around one or two guys buried behind synths, sequencers, and laptops, with the occasional guitarist thrown into the mix. That all seems to be changing lately though; electroclash’s emergence and disco punk’s revival re-introduced clubbers to a whole world of indie music they’d long paid little heed to, and the little New York scene that DFA built has found its way into numerous pockets of the world in the years since. Now, you can even choose which sub-category of this genre of music you wish to proclaim as superior: dance-goes-rock (LCD Soundsytem; Justice) or rock-goes-dance (!!!; that silly ‘nu-rave’ thing Klaxons have going). Somewhere in the middle of it all lays Hot Chip.

Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard make up the brains of this unlikely electro-soul-rave-wave-pop five-piece. Although obvious darlings of the hipster crowd, it was a few years before folks properly took notice. Their sophomore album The Warning certainly helped elevate their exposure, and bundles of buzz from their live shows on the festival circuit pretty much sealed the deal: anticipation and expectation on their third album would be difficult to match. So it’s just as well they forgot all that and settled on having fun with the creative process. At least, that’s what Made In The Dark sounds like.

Although Hot Chip’s flirted with a genre or two, this time they’ve stuck all their influences into a blender and added liberal amounts of pop to the mix. The result is something that’s at once chaotic and jumbled, yet super-fun just the same. These guys realize their studio (or rough approximation of one, since many of these songs were apparently conceived in Goddard’s apartment) is as much an instrument as all the guitars, synths, and tambourines they use. With such knowledge, an anything-goes mentality takes over, and the process can be sublime, provided it’s handled by musicians who remember to write music first, play with their toys second. And handle well they do indeed.

Granted, they don’t always succeed. Tracks like Bendable Poseable and Touch Too Much sound like Hot Chip needed someone reigning in all their ideas, as these overflow with excessive production; the good ideas lurking underneath are thus overshadowed. Fortunately, they’re the exceptions to Made In The Dark's general tone.

If anything, the group display an uncanny knack of making their unpredictability absolutely necessary. For example, One Pure Thought could be best described as house-music-meets-folk-rock. Yes, you read that right. Now, try to imagine Hot Chip doing without such a blend and settling on just a single influence, and chances are you’ve come away with something quaint but ultimately bland. Well, the chorus would still be good, but not as great as it is presented here.

The album is littered with such tracks. Shake A Fist, Hold On, and Don’t Dance are obviously heavily inspired by the club circuits, yet never strictly adhere to the expectations that come with that scene. Meanwhile, Out At The Pictures does the whole ‘big-disco-rock-band’ thing with winning results, while Ready For The Floor is an easy-breezy slice of crossover dance. And then there are the ballads. Good ballads!

Nearly a third of the album is dedicated to the softer side of music, and Hot Chip pulls it off with the grace of any crooner. Whether mopey musers (Whistle For Will), lovelorn lullabies (Made In The Dark; In The Privacy Of Our Love), or straight-up classy quirkfests (Wrestlers, a goofy call-to-arms rallying song inspired by, you guessed it, wrestling, with Hot Chip sounding about as threatening as a mid-80s WWF jobber ...just get a load of these lyrics: “Here we come; Drop kick; Half-Nelson; Full-Nelson; Willie Nelson... Willie Nelson.” Hilarious! ...well, if you were ever a fan of wrestling, that is ...okay, enough of this parenthesis tangent), these downtempo tunes showcase just how versatile this group is. All too often, ballads and dance music go together like oil and water in an album context (hence why ballads are usually lumped at the end whenever an act does attempt them), but Hot Chip display just as much skill in this field as they do in getting the dance floor energized.

Made In The Dark certainly is an album that will appeal to fans of many walks of music, and will undoubtedly get notice from several scenes. Heck, Metacritic alone has some thirty-five reviews available to check out, and that’s just covering the mainstream and indie-rock spreads. Even if your notion of ‘proper electronic dance music’ doesn’t hold much regard for an act that sometimes treats itself as a folk band more than techno sequencers, Hot Chip’s sense of rhythm and melody will win you over just the same.


ACE TRACKS:
One Pure Thought
Hold On
In The Privacy Of Our Love

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2008. © All rights reserved


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