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Hot Chip: Made in the Dark

[Astralwerks/DFA]

February 4, 2008  |  10:59am
Hot Chip: Made in the Dark

British electro-soul troupe splits time between bedroom and dance floor

Hot Chip has never been one of those bands that uses rave music to wean itself off of rock. Until now, anyway, the band has been more interested in full-bodied hybridization. The British act’s fusion of dancey sounds (rave, house and two-step garage) with more rock-rooted sounds (funk, indie-pop and soul) lies at the end of a long evolutionary chain, where rock and electronic music first battled for supremacy, then gradually fused together, their previously intractable ideological divisions blurring and dissolving. The band’s story summarizes rock’s gradual embrace of electronic drums and samples; a story about a band that loves molten beats and fey vocals in equal measure, tentatively moving out of the cloistered bedroom and onto the dance floor (without, in reality, leaving the bedroom—i.e., the home studio where Hot Chip has recorded all three of its albums).

Hot Chip’s debut, Coming on Strong, epitomized the bedroom sound. Cuddly vocals by Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard (the former elfin and reedy, the latter bearish and full-figured) hung like damp linen over a spindly rack of low-rent beats more suitable for headphones than hedonism. With its casual air, thin production and emphasis on breezy melody over kinetic rhythm, the record sounded definitively intimate, more aligned with indie music’s introspection than dance music’s communality. The album’s flirtations with hip-hop (one particularly beard-stroking track was titled “Shining Escalade”) only added to the sense of Hot Chip as quirky home-tapers engaging with dance music as a tool, not a tradition.

If Hot Chip’s debut was an ephemeral pleasure, its sophomore album, The Warning, was an impregnable revelation. The former was a feather landing on the grass; the latter an iron hammer clanging down on a hot anvil, throwing streams of incandescent sparks. Hot Chip’s hesitancy was obliterated, although the intimacy remained intact via the more confident but still sugary vocals. “Look After Me” was the sort of aching ballad that filled out Coming on Strong, girded by a sophisticated nighttime glide instead of a nursery-rhyme bounce. In addition to beefing up with sheets of bounding, muscular funk, The Warning embraced the big-beat rave sounds that Hot Chip circled warily on its debut, producing chant-laden conflagrations like “And I Was A Boy from School” and “Over And Over.” The Warning was a bedroom album only insofar as the bedroom is where one dances and sings into a hairbrush in front of the mirror, and if LCD Soundsystem gave lapsed punks their own bona-fide dance music, Hot Chip did the same thing for bored indie-poppers.

The band’s third album, Made in the Dark, is happily unsurprising, adding new depths of energy, color and confidence to Hot Chip’s extant sound. It’s the band’s most rock-centric record so far, and also the band’s most eΩortlessly propulsive. Its glitchy grooves now cascade, rarely tangling themselves as they once did. Tripping funk reappears on “Hold On,” but Hot Chip has fully embraced the rowdier sounds inherent in its electronic tools—the Todd Rundgren-sampling “Shake a Fist” includes a breakdown in which Taylor introduces “a game I call Sounds of the Studio” before cutting up a volley of ripped sampler blasts so emphatic that they don’t derail the momentum of the clattering percussion, vintage hip-hop vocal stabs and rubbery synth bass around them. “Bendable Poseable” earns its title with a spring-mounted groove decked out with Owen Clarke’s nimble guitar lead, and blossoming rave-pop track “Ready for the Floor” is this year’s “Boy from School,” with its gigantic singalong vocal refrain and high-spirited bounce.

But Hot Chip hasn’t neglected its soulful meditations here. “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love” is an electronic hymn; gentle waves of delayed guitar and sinuous synths lap at Taylor’s voice. “Whistle for Will” gradually amasses droning piano chords and a slow, cardiac pulse into a sky-gazing ballad, which blurs into pensive closer “In the Privacy of Our Love.” The title track is almost analog, built from little more than curling guitars and off-kilter drums. It’s telling that these titles contain references to darkness and privacy, which is their proper environment, while “Ready for the Floor” betrays a more public stance: On Made in the Dark, Hot Chip has stopped trying so hard to integrate the dance and bedroom sounds it loves, instead segregating them to eliminate the compromises of the first two albums.

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