Thursday, March 27, 2008

Headphones: Hot Chip's Made In The Dark

Hot Chip tiptoe along a musical cliff. By choosing what can effectively be seen as an update of 80’s synth-pop as their style, they’ve put themselves in the same circle with New Order, Erasure, the Pet Shop Boys, and early Depeche Mode. This is not a problem in itself, as they are some of the best groups of the New Wave era, but problems can arise if you let the quality of your output dip below these lofty standards, you can fall off the cliff, sounding like the second and third-string New Wavers famous more for their haircuts than their music. Hot Chip’s breakthrough second album, 2006’s The Warning, was a near-masterpiece, a clear picture of their strengths with very little of their weaknesses, and an especially refreshing example of the wonderful juxtaposition of the voices of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard; the album was pleasurable enough to end up as CSR’s #4 album of that year.

Now, two years later, they return with the unfortunate mess of Made In The Dark. The clarity of the last album is mostly lost, with the band having more fragmented song ideas than actual fully-written songs, deciding to simply cram pieces together into awkward wholes. At least half the album falls prey to this, forcing most of the songs to be odd novelties. “Out At The Pictures” is the worst offender, sounding like aural vomit, and the genre exercises “Don’t Dance” (80’s Prince) and “Hold On” (Disco) don’t fair much better. There’s charm and tasty bits to lead single “Ready For The Floor”, “Bendable Poseable” and the cheeky “Wrestlers”, but they never really come to fruition. “One Pure Thought” starts off great, stumbles, falls apart, pulls itself together, and then falls apart again. The only track in this fashion that works is the rumbling “Shake A Fist”, but mostly just because its sonic elements are more exhilarating and interesting; it’s also fun, where most of this album is not.

Even when they pick something and stick to it, they still fall short. Club banger “Touch Too Much” actually focuses and emerges fully-formed, but that form is kind of a bland version of The Warning. After the good looks he got from the last album, Alexis Taylor has taken the feedback as license to go MOR pop for the Indie set. Blue-eyed Soul ballad “We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love” works its tender groove well enough to be the one slow song that really succeeds here, but the title track and “In The Privacy Of Our Love” are terribly maudlin, way too bad in an Elton John way for anyone’s taste. “Whistle For Will” is only a little less grating because it sounds more like John Lennon, but no less precious. It’s a shame really, because the band was able once to graft beautiful pop full of heartache to edgy computer music. Now we have to just hope they can remember how to do it for next time.

"Ready For The Floor" [video]

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