On Freakout/Release, Hot Chip Lets You Know You’re Not Alone
Two decades in, Hot Chip captures the energy of their live shows in the studio—and on a dance floor near youMusic Reviews Hot Chip
Hot Chip might not have the same name recognition here in the States as their contemporaries LCD Soundsystem (even if they share guitarist Al Doyle), but they have demonstrated the same amount of staying power—and earned the same level of esteem. Originally started as an outlet for Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard to mix their adoration for house music with the sweet grooves of soul and R&B in their late teen years, the group expanded to a quintet in the mid-2000s. Their sophomore record, The Warning, garnered them the attention of critics, and 2008’s Made in the Dark solidified them as one of the most lively dance-pop acts of the 2000s. If LCD is Joy Division, then Hot Chip is New Order; both bands make emotionally tinged pop music, but New Order has always been easier to dance to.
Freakout/Release is Hot Chip at their most complete. It’s the first time the band has written an entire record together from start to finish, recording live to capture the energy of their live shows. This enabled the band to experiment with blurring the lines between structured songwriting and live improvisation while writing. Hot Chip’s songs hit harder during a live show, and the songs on Freakout/Release were born out of the same energy of a live performance, as committed to tape.
Album opener “Down” borrows the hook from Chicago funk act Universal Togetherness Band’s “More Than Enough,” using it as the blueprint from which to build a compelling comeback track. The original sample loops for 30 seconds on its own, setting the bar of funkiness high before Hot Chip completely smashes it in a wave of synthesizers and electronic drum beats. It’s reminiscent of Goddard’s 2017 solo record Electric Lines, a record that very much centered on his skills of crate-digging for classic samples to reshape into something new.
Hot Chip has always worn their influences on their sleeve, which makes so many of their songs feel familiar the first time you hear them. The sounds of 1980s one-hit wonders are alive on synth-poppy “Eleanor” and “Broken,” the two most single-worthy songs on the record. They channel DEVO by way of Kraftwerk on the album’s title track, as Goddard’s voice, modulated and robotic, chants “Wild beast / Freakout release” on repeat. Over a Moog bassline, Taylor professes, “Music used to be escape / Now I can’t escape it / I feel trapped in a world / Life’s what you make it.” The stress of our world has been weighing us all down, and it’s about time we let the last three years of sadness, frustration and anxiety that have built up inside us out. It’s time to unleash all the troubles we’ve been holding onto out on the dance floor, because we’re each in control of our own destiny.
On “Not Alone,” Taylor reflects on heartache over dreamy synthesizers, employing a technique found often in Hot Chip’s best songs. He sings angelically, “How can I help you to complete your song / If all I do is get the meaning wrong / Anxiety can only kill a man / If he always turns away the helping hand,” while Goddard answers back, “You think no one knows / About the darkness that you feel / You’re not alone / I know your mind, I know it’s real.” Hot Chip, at its core, is Taylor and Goddard—their voices go together like peanut butter and jelly, and this “call and response” method is quintessential Hot Chip.
“Hard to Be Funky” is a sexy-sounding anthem about getting older and struggling to find motivation while the world dies around you, with a chorus of Taylor’s signature falsetto holding it all together. Taylor and Goodard sound cheesy to the point it must be purposeful, trading off verses on “The Evil That Men Do” until a very confident piano bridge flips the beat, ushering in a suburb guest verse by rapper Cadence Weapon. It’s like R.E.M.’s “Radio Song,” a cringy track that’s redeemed by the appearance of KRS-ONE. The band dives deeper into the world of electronica with the techno beats on “Time,” and Goddard takes the lead on the house-infused “Miss The Bliss.”
In the past, Hot Chip hasn’t always known how to end their records, often hitting the climax way too early (a la Made in the Dark’s “Hold On” or In Our Head’s “Let Me Be Him”). But on Freakout/Release, the band has finally figured out the formula for completing the arc of an album in a satisfying way. “Guilty” knocks you out with Prince-influenced electro-guitar flourishes, and the spaced-out closer “Out of My Depth” leaves you spinning out into the infinite. After two decades in the game, Hot Chip is a band you can count on to consistently make crowd-pleasing records, and Freakout/Release is a well-rounded addition to their discography.
Jack Probst is a writer and record collector from St. Louis. He appreciates the works of James Murphy, Wes Anderson and Super Mario. Send any and all complaints to @jackdprobst on Twitter. He enjoys writing paragraphs about himself in his spare time.