There's something odd about Hot Chip. Some fracture between conception and actuality that makes them all the more intriguing. Ostensibly Hot Chip sign up to the HipHop dream as espoused by MTV Cribs and presumably as lived by, ooh, Pharrell Williams? They just seem to have some problems translating it to Wandsworth, SE London, is all.
In fact they seem to have trouble squaring it with the equal, but to some extent opposite, influence of, say, Bill Callahan from Smog. Or Lambchop. Or Crystal Gayle. So, instead of doing the obvious thing and working out what sort of band they are going to be, they conclude that they will be all of them at once. And then they'll make it all in a room smaller than the box room at your Mum's house. With whatever's lying around. That is, whatever's lying around - toy trumpets, kazoos, blah. This to conform to a cherished idea of Brian Wilson's that, in the studio, anything goes.
"Whereas a band like Primal Scream simply want to BE The Rolling Stones for one album, then King Tubby on the next, and Royal Trux on another, we prefer to make references in miniature to the spirit of the records and performances we love and admire," says vocalist/keyboard player Alexis Taylor.
"We might apply an interesting approach to recording that we have learnt from an artist, but with a different set of aesthetic principles. So traces of RTX, Anti-Pop Consortium, 'I'm Your Man' era-Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, MadLib and Will Oldham, for example, may all be somewhere in one song, rather than becoming the blueprint for an entire album."
The crux of all this, though, is the dynamic tension between the sheer respect for the production techniques of, say, Darkchild on Brandy's 'What About Us?', and a very English (and, some might say, white) need to tell it a little more like how it is. So, on the Neptunes inspired 'Playboy', you get the aspirational ghetto stylings of a Hype Williams as re-shot by Mike Leigh, with Hot Chipper Joe singing about blazing Yo La Tengo from his Peugeot as he tools round Putney with the top down. 'Pathos' is a word that springs to mind not for the first or last time while listening to 'Coming On Strong'. But Hot Chip are nothing if not funny, although it's safe to say they are pretty deadpan in their humour.
This is perhaps best exemplified by 'Keep Fallin'', a song which contains Alexis Chip's somewhat provocative boast that he is "like Stevie Wonder" but "can see things". This in a song that manages to shoehorn in musical nods to Ween, Womack & Womack, the Spencer Davies Group, plus the great Stevie himself, while lyrically referencing the myth of Sisyphus and cracking crap jokes. Phew!
"It should sound packed and be brimming with ideas, like 'Pet Sounds' or 'Paul's Boutique'," says Alexis before tracing the roots of Hot Chip's sound to the interplay between his naivety and Joe's knowledge. And this is the way it seems to go. Hot Chip say they have between 10 and 15 songs on the go constantly, recording everything they play together and then painstakingly piecing together the best elements into a new whole, which often bears little relation to the source material. "Like Public Enemy," they say by way of example.
Unlike most of their heroes and role models, however, Hot Chip prefer things to be slightly off or too loud or in some way odd, and set great store in the accidental nature of recording. Perhaps it is this that gives them the slightly homemade feel that permeates the whole 'Coming On Strong', and makes it an album so high on charm.
The party sounds that intersperse the Tom Tom Club-by 'Beach Party' are more back-garden barbeque than the primetime Prince which inspired them, and are deliberately designed to evoke innocence rather than more Bacchanalian pleasures. Elsewhere, home itself is never far from centre stage, whether it be the bereft rooms and empty refrigerator of 'Crap Kraft Dinner', or the quiet domestic tragedy of 'Baby Said'. "Baby said she wanted adventure / I said, baby, the outside world's not safe / We should sit down".
And, outside the home you get... the car. Yes, the aforementioned hymn to the Peugeot is but one of three tunes on the joys of driving to be found on 'Coming On Strong'. 'You Ride, We Ride, In My Ride' is Will Oldham cruising with his crew after a night on the piss, with what Joe calls UK garage polyrhythms and Alexis insists is actually a disco bassline. 'Shining Escalade' meanwhile is an auto-erotic phantasy about the SUV of the same name, with Alexis playing straight man to Joe's daft flights of fancy.
This is a situation found throughout the record; Alexis high reedy vocal and often deadly sincere words, juxtaposed with Joe's browner, slightly ludicrous baritone, pointing us towards the more playful elements of Hot Chip. And, in truth, they are both meaningful and meaningless. At the same time. They like to sing sweetly about aggressive situations, and make jokes about things you really should cry about.
'Coming On Strong' is, like the man says, chockfull of more ideas than you could satisfactorily identify, many of them purely signs and ciphers for the participants' own delight. Thankfully, it functions first and foremost as a pop record, albeit the decidedly odd one hinted at in the first sentence.
Hot Chip are: Alexis Taylor (vocals / keboard) / Joe Goddard (beat master / vocals) / Owen Clarke (Keyboards ? guitar) / Felix Martin (drums / MPC) / Al Do It (guitar).
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