Hot Chip: One Life Stand
The Dance Floor and the Domestic
One Life Stand
Hot Chip, in their music as well as their lyrics, have always played with (and played up) the distance between dance-floor bliss and mundane domestic concerns. On the one hand, they're clearly indoor kids—nerds, softies, stay-at-home dads; basically, men who are flummoxed when their babies want adventure. On the other hand, they produce some irrefutably bumping club music—even if the bump is usually pretty polite and the sentiment of their dance-floor anthems more heart-on-sleeve than hands-in-the-air (and even if their musical output is itself the result of long hours indoors with their drum machines).
It's a tension that makes for greatly moving musical moments (the nostalgia-drenched disco of "And I Was a Boy from School," for instance), fine formal humor (deadpan boasts about pumping Yo La Tengo from their Escalades), and frequently both at the same time (the decidedly uptight funk of "Down with Prince").
So, it should come as no surprise that the band's fourth album, One Life Stand (out February 9 on Astralwerks), is full of ready-for-the-floor electro-pop/soul about such banger-averse topics as romantic fidelity, male bonding, and cats (and even the cats turn out to be an extended relationship metaphor the likes of which you might hear in marriage counseling).
Like Made in the Dark before it, One Life Stand tips the scales slightly further toward the "mature" side of this animating dialectic—toward lyrics of hearth and home, love and family, and away from affectionately ironic signifiers of the fly life. Unlike that album, it's a fairly even listen, with the band's two sides pretty smoothly synthesized in terms of sonics, rather than split into ballads and bangers. It's still not as wall-to-wall awesome as either Coming on Strong or The Warning, though.
The Alexis Taylor–led "Thieves in the Night" builds glittering synth arpeggios up to a high, key-changing chorus about how "happiness is what we all want." (Taylor is generally the high falsetto, Joe Goddard the low murmur.) "Hand Me Down Your Love" drops a housey piano loop over a simple chugging beat on the verse but unfolds lush strings and synths on the pleading chorus.
"I Feel Better"—a duet on which Goddard and Taylor dabble in Auto-Tune (an indie-rock trend for 2010, cf. Vampire Weekend?)—turns a tense string section into a steel-drum-inflected chorus that recalls, of all things, Madonna's "La Isla Bonita." The title track goes from hard-hitting rhythm box and bass synth wobble (and, again, steel drums) on the verse to an upward-looking chorus marked by peripheral funk guitar scratches.
The Goddard-led "Brothers" is an ode to often-dorky male camaraderie ("Brothers/I can play Xbox with my brothers/It's not about who won or lost with my brothers/We play to be free") built on pillowy soft synths but a steady-driving tempo, and with a fey chorus that just flirts with the homophilic. "Slush" is a plodding ballad led by Taylor harmonizing "hummanah hummanah hummanah"; skip it.
"Alley Cats," as I've previously written, first struck me as overly cloying but has quickly become one of my favorite songs here, a sweet little thing marked by close-quartered vocals, fingered bass, slippery little guitar echoes, and a metaphor that ultimately endears more than annoys. "We Have Love" pairs a pitched-up vocal loop with a lyrical cadence snatched straight out of "Love Vigilantes" (that kind of painfully on-beat delivery that Bernard Sumner achieves by keeping the syllable count low and stretching everything out).
"Keep Quiet" is a appropriately hushed and understated number, all distant percussive tinkling and muted synths, that, in the sequencing of the album, functions mostly as a prelude to the final track. That track, "Take It In," is a sinister Goddard joint whose lyrics wonder how to kill time between six o'clock and midnight—the rhythmic groove seems to say, "Duh, dude, go out to the disco already," but the chorus makes one last plea for love: "Please take my heart and keep it close to you."