If any band wants to become legitimately popular, they have to feed into that “I’m-cool-as-hell-for-listening-to-this” feeling that today’s music fans seem to gravitate toward. Rap does it great. Pop does a decent job, too. But anything innovative doesn’t work because it makes the listener feel stupid. And anything too personal doesn’t work because it’s lame and, if it inspires empathy in the listener, the listener feels lame. Unfortunately, real listeners want innovative and personal music.
Hot Chip does a half-decent job of reconciling these two issues by trying to mask the substance with as many satisfying hooks and frills as it can, carefully sliding in bits and pieces of musical prowess where others might not notice because they were distracted by something else—perhaps an Alvin and the Chipmunks-like squeal of “We Have Love?” Yeah, kind of like that. Or how about the person gargling helium in the background of the track “Hand Me Down Your Love?”
But most of the band’s eccentricities do little harm. The slight overuse of synthetic instruments and ambient, techno-bent beats is justified because they are crisp and penetrating. The glamorous synthetic strings and Auto-Tune used in “I Feel Better” are perhaps acceptable because of the richness of the sounds and rhythmic play that develop throughout the song. But maybe not. Their sometimes-cheesy catchiness is compensated for by layers of subtle melodic variation that are plenty interesting. The title track is a true sign of this; try to follow the melody and see if you can wait long enough for it to repeat and for you to notice. The depth of the sounds in this song’s beat is also impressive.
The album starts out with the anthem-like “Thieves in The Night,” which accurately sets the pace and feel of the album with rich, detailed sounds. “Brother” is one of the worst tracks I’ve heard from Hot Chip. It’s simple and a bit childish and reeks of a lack of effort. The lyrics are rudimentary and not especially clever, and the melody feels uninspired. “Slush” is stylistically novel. “Alley Cats” steps up their game, though, providing an awkward but pleasant environment for a suspenseful buildup that resolves gradually and warmly. “We Have Love” is a bit too much like the Italian electronic group Eiffel 65, and “Keep Quiet” sounds like an outtake from Radiohead’s album “Kid A.” The track “Take It In” clinches with a very pleasant but somewhat standard artsy-indie feel.
Hot Chip moves away from noisier electronic music in a pretty drastic way with this release, leaning instead toward a bit of an odd combination of smooth, glamorous, and tasteless synth-pop, and some pretty “phat” beats (as in, they fulfill the aforementioned requirement for successful contemporary music). It’s a bit too layered and textured, poppy in an interrupting way, and lyrically too silly to be truly accessible, but is definitely catchy, pulse-heavy, careful, and in some ways, interesting. Let’s face it–this album took time and effort to create, and so it serves its purpose.