Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hot Chip's Made In The Dark...

New music is finally starting to pour in like a torrent (no pun intended). As I scan definite (and possible) release dates for upcoming albums, some raise my level of excitement, some make me cringe, some carry a WTF sticker, and some I won't touch with a ten-foot pole. Ah, yes; my lovely staff will carry me through the year as I sit back, relax and...

No, I've got a lot of work to do. Yeah, listening to albums and writing about them isn't work if you love it to death, so I'm looking forward to these upcoming releases (asterix denotes highly anticipated, like "oops, I crapped my pants" anticipation):

February 19th (Today!)
Atlas Sound
Mountain Goats

March 4th
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks*

March 18th
Be Your Own Pet

April 1st

April 8th
Gnarls Barkley*
The Breeders
Man Man
Colin Meloy*

April 14th
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Tapes n' Tapes

April 21st

May 13th
Death Cab For Cutie*

June 3rd

June 10th
My Morning Jacket*

...and that's just until mid-year! Also, there's a slew of albums without a release date nailed down, from the likes of Franz Ferdinand, The Hold Steady and Morrissey.

Anyhow, here's a new review of:

Hot Chip - Made In The Dark (released February 5, 2008; EMI/DFA/Astralwerks Records)

Long-time readers of The Musicologists may remember me naming Hot Chip's last album, The Warning, as my #13 album of 2006. Here's the link to that review. Being the unapologetic Anglophile that I am, I've been listening to Made In The Dark for the last month since its leak on British P2P services and speaking highly of them to anyone who'll listen. Trying to coax my room-mate to get down with them, I explained that they're like Postal Service with a set of huge balls on four hits of strong microdot. Sometimes I miss LSD.

Perfectly mixing minimalist trip-hop and a heavier, dance-punk sound has been Hot Chip's forte three albums into the game.
Hot Chip caught my attention in early 2006 after hearing Coming On Strong. The album is sprinkled with an assortment of name-checks: Gene and Dean Ween, Stevie Wonder, Yo La Tengo, James Joyce's Ulysses, Peugeot cars (the car I learned to drive in!), crappy Kraft dinners, Prince and pimped-out Escalades. I'm a sucker for hilarious and random mentions of pop-culture, as they can help point out a frame of reference and then relate it to what's going on in my own life.

Wondering what direction they'd go on here, they pretty much went everywhere; expanding their style further in both directions and interchanging the two as they please. Stylistically, Hot Chip are masters of getting the most layers of sound out of the least amount of instrumentation by recording live, rather than multi-tracking and over-dubbing the shit out of their music; they go on the fly and work it out later on the mix board. I'd love to see more bands producing their own records, who better knows your sound than you?

Hot Chip's core of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard have been able to mature their sound without cheesing it up, as many artists tend to do as they rise. But critical acclaim doesn't always mean "cool", as part of the Chip's allure is their geeky love for ancient Moog synths, laptop-based looping software and old-school video game sounds. Playing Taylor's tender croon against Goddard's droll delivery marks Hot Chip's mastery of soulful electronica, and they can pretty much stand alone at the top of that genre.

The album opens with four straight party punches: Out At The Pictures, Shake A Fist, Ready For The Floor and Bendable Poseable. Track 1 gets things going with an ambient organ layered over a squonky synth pattern that speeds up until it crashes headfirst into the drums, playing together with one-on-one staccato blasts. Then the jam gets thick, working itself into a pseudo Austin Powers' theme meets original dance-punkers Josef K at Tony Wilson's famed Manchester club The Hacienda, circa 1989.

Legendary producer Todd Rundgren makes a cameo on Shake A Fist's middle section, imploring the listener to grab some headphones and
"get 'em cranked up, cuz they're really gonna help you!" Apparently the collaboration with Rundgren was inspired by Goddard smoking a huge hit of salvia backstage at the Glastonbury Festival and Taylor writing down what he saw in his mind's eye over the course of the "trip". Sweet! Ready For The Floor has some endearing and nostalgic 8-bit Atari bleeps, and Bendable Poseable's ambiguous lyrics about a relationship stuck in a bad pop-and-lock routine. Only after the full-frontal assault of the opening quartet of songs does the band bring it low for the lovers. Going ballad on We're Looking For A Lot Of Love, the band furthers their stellar down-tempo skills seen on The Warning with Look After Me. Not being shy about wearing his heart on his sleeve, Taylor offers up these lyrics: "Every time that we walk the streets/ I try my best to keep up with the beat/ You're everything that I never could keep/ I hear the sound and it starts to repeat..."

Returning to the electro-pop goodness with just a hint of wry darkness, Touch Too Much is about the walk home after the split. Thematically, it's the counterpart to the previous song, placed next to each other as parts one and two of the break-up story. Musically, they couldn't be more of polar opposites but that's why this album is just so damn good. The title track is another excellent ballad, solidifying the Chip's foothold in the genre of neo-soul. It's the hangover after that break-up, phrases like "fell apart", "longing for" and "what's fixed as one breaks in two..." are peppered throughout the song, giving it a rawness and emotionality that's far from previous dance-hall bangers like England's favorite music magazine NME's 2006 song of the year, Over And Over.

Speaking of dance-hall riddim, listening to the drum machine pattern on One Pure Thought, I'm reminded of the computer-driven rhythms in the heyday of Jamaican music from the early 80s, without the oppresive bass lines that usually accompany the bashment of Cutty Ranks and Yellowman's tunes. Hold On is another banger, sure to get the dance floor hotter than July on the Equator. "I'm only going to heaven/ if it feels like hell/ I'm only going to heaven/ if it tastes like caramel..." Cribbing some style from label-mates !!!, there's a bit of
that space-funk going on here, with clipped guitar lines and a really nice bongo breakdown in the middle section of the song.

"It's me versus you in love..." croons Taylor to start the next track, Wrestlers, using imagery from pro wrestling including all the terms you'd associate with it; drop kick, full nelson, suplex, elbow drop, cage match, grudge match... Weathering emotional abuse in a relationship is pretty tough, and the Chip compares a nasty fight with a lover to being body slammed. I should also mention there's some really nice, albeit reserved piano work here. Ironically, the next song is called Don't Dance, but I'd be hard pressed to find anyone within earshot of this song actually doing that once this song hits the two-and-a-half minute mark, containing elements of
UK progressive house msuic, it's a jam to be reckoned with.

Whistle For Will is a short piano and vocal ballad, quite subdued in nature. The album closes with another ballad, In The Privacy Of Our Love, short and very sweet, playing out to a synth-harpsichord pattern into deafening silence.

As for the future of Hot Chip, I can't wait to hear remixes of this album. If anyone from DFA or the dudes from Simian Mobile Disco stumble onto this blog, please please please get to work immediately on these tracks! And they're playing The Fillmore here in SF on April 24th, so you can bet there'll be a review (with pictures!) sometime in late April...

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