While the British synthpop outfit Hot Chip built a wide following with their energetic and experimental sound, singer Alexis Taylor has garnered attention in his own right with his tender and stripped back solo material. Since his debut solo release of 2008’s Rubbed Out, Taylor’s solo work has been a far cry from his band’s discography, but the change of pace was welcomed as it diversified his own identity as a musician. With his latest effort Piano, Taylor bravely put himself front and center with a piano as his only accompaniment across 11 tracks, but ultimately ends up sounding uninspired.
Where Hot Chip has the ability to effortlessly pump a healthy dose of adrenaline into any party, Taylor makes music for the individual best reserved for a quiet night in. His unabashed vulnerability and acoustic instrumentation is humble and welcoming, but Piano sounds defeated more than anything else. The opening track “I’m Ready” sets an appropriate mood for the rest of the album by sounding more like Taylor is only as ready as he’ll ever be. Similar tracks such as “So Much Further to Go” and “Lonely Vagabond” are not just sad; they are miserable. But instead of eliciting a similar emotion, Taylor sounds as if he is asking for pity. On his cover of “Crying in the Chapel,” Taylor just sounds crushed as he coos, “I pray the Lord that I’ll grow stronger as I live from day to day.” Much like on the opening track, Taylor sounds stuck, which explains why many of the songs sound so similar and monotonous.
However boring the album comes across, it is certainly some of the bravest work Taylor has made yet. Considering his bold electronic catalogue, even Taylor’s past solo material cannot compare to the personal intimacy featured on Piano. When backed by just a piano, there are no guards or painted faces for Taylor, just his shameless emotion. Not to say that Piano is a natural fit for Taylor; the sentiment and emotion is valiant considering his propinquity for unapologetic party music.
Taylor had one intention in mind when recording Piano, which was to capture a natural, unadorned ambiance throughout the album. He does this without question; the songs feed off each other appropriately, but the melancholia just seems to manifest itself without any kind of fight. The album lacks any sense of passion, although emotion is not in short supply. While Taylor’s unembellished solo material is an appreciated variation compared to his work with Hot Chip, there is no diversity on Piano in any sense. While intimate and personal in nature, Piano combines minimalistic instrumentation with simplistic lyrics and makes for an album that turns lackluster as a whole.