In Our Heads
Bands like Hot Chip make it difficult to pay excessive heed to their lyrical substance, what with their history of throwaway playfulness couched within an addictive brand of synth-pop. After the success of their sophomore album The Warning, Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard drew inspiration from house and disco, realms not exactly awash with profound utterances, and have persevered against their prankster impression to garner deserved respect and adulation. Six years on from that breakthrough, the band continues their charming hoodwink of the pop music landscape with In Our Heads, an album which attempts to further translate that whimsy into wist while maintaining their dance floor marvel and satisfying the band’s own eclectic ambitions.
This is a journey that Hot Chip have been on for some time, with general success. It’s impossible not to wonder how the six personalities of the group are involved in realising the finished product. Whether an internal conflict between the indie sensibility that defined the eye-opening debut of 2005, Coming On Strong, and their grown up, stage-owning attitude of latter day is tough to identify, but at times it can seem like the group has too many stories to tell. What is inarguable is their enduring sonic and cultural relevance. Less debatable even still is their flair; whatever can be said about it, there’s no doubt that a fifth Hot Chip album was absolutely necessary. Whether such a broad portfolio was needed is unclear, but within this chymeric offering there are feathers both resplendent and dull in its dappled plumage.
Unfortunately, the album leads with some of its more confused moments. Don’t Deny Your Heart especially, bounces from sample-‐inflected euphoria to what seem like endless, unnecessary refrains. For a tune sporting all the elements of Smooth Criminal funk, it’s refusal to ride out the groove is its undoing, a let down made all the more disappointing by how infectious their impression is before the key change. Both These Chains and Flutes on the other hand, succeed by way of their restraint, allowing Hot Chip’s simple chemistry to bubble through. In fact, as the album draws on, it feels like the group has the chance to breathe deep and let their formula work itself out as it has in the past. Look At Where We Are and especially Let Me Be Him foreground Taylor and Goddard’s voices respectively in a way unlike much they’ve done since Coming On Strong, but with a confidence in their charmingly brittle warble that both evidences and profits from their maturity.
There are still lyrics aplenty, however, that lack the sophistication of a group as critically beloved as Hot Chip are. How Do You Do might have the potential for damage that hits such as I Feel Better inflicted previously, but is critically let down by recitation like “how do you do that things you do?” Really? How a group so adored can escape scathe for lazy lyrics like this is mysterious. Unlike previous unimportant vocal offerings, the hackneyed question is here unshrouded by their former tenderness or reticence. That Taylor gets back on track later in the song, ruminating that “a church is not for praying, it’s for celebrating the light that bleeds through the pain” is obscured by the disparate accompaniment of chorus and arpeggiator, despite being a genuinely arousing reflection. Imagining this tune as a ballad is a delight and perhaps the inevitable remix suite will see this happen.
No one will doubt how very many ideas there are in the heads of Hot Chip. It’s a blessing, really, that they get to communicate them so well generally. At a point in their trajectory when they still possess ample ideas and inspiration, a little more focus is surely warranted. Audiences in the 21st century are critics harshest of their most impassioned affections: Hot Chip have well and truly earned such attention and query. Why not a collection of soul followed by a separate array of disco chuggers? The interplay between their interests is surely thought provoking, but it should not be at the expense of clarity.
Coco Channel lived by the sartorial mantra of, before leaving home, discarding one item of clothing. This method of moderation goes ways towards elegance in many realms outside of fashion, and in light of it, its hard not wish a few elements throughout this mostly invigorating effort were left on the cutting room floor. Given that In Our Heads will likely be consumed song by song, this should matter very little in the long run, and unlike the world of fashion, the potential for individual remix will no doubt bring about slenderised versions from other genre luminaries. All things considered, however, the question must be asked again: ‘is another Hot Chip album necessary?’ On the back of In Our Heads, the answer is once more a resounding ‘yes'.
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