Until a couple weeks ago, I would have said that Hot Chip had released the best album of an adolescent 2008. Made in the Dark isn’t quite on par with last year’s Sound of Silver (LCD Soundsystem), but it comes from a similar sonic playground, including songs that can knock you down with shock and awe (“Shake a Fist”) and lull you into a meditative appreciation (“Wrestlers”).
Who could have up-ended this achievement? On March 18, The Kills released Midnight Boom, and album I had probably anticipated more than any other this year. No one could have had higher expectations for a fresh release from the cross-Atlantic duo of vocalist Alison "VV" Mosshart and guitarist Jamie "Hotel" Hince, but when I started hearing of Spank Rock’s involvement and some of the early reviews, I worried that my two-headed demon of ripping hipster blues had been defanged (a la PJ Harvey’s White Chalk).
When I finally got to pop Midnight Boom in my CD player, I felt the tingle that a friend had introduced me to with the first blips followed by the revving chainsaw of “Superstition” (track 1 of their debut, Keep on Your Mean Side). The first, confusing ten seconds of “U.R.A. Fever” follow landline sound effects into VV and Hotel’s endless supply of violently whispered haikus:
Pick you out a soda.
Look at you forever.
Eyes like a casino.
Find a piece of silver.
Go down to the
Put it in a fruit machine.
Everyone’s a winner.
Laughing like a seagull.
You are a fever . . .
With the refrain comes a subtle-but-deadly bass line and electro scratch. Like most of the album, it’s hit-and-run; two minutes later the track is over, leaving elation and bemused confusion in its wake.
“Take you to a jukebox . . . / Pick you out a number, / that’s our arrangement.”
Hip-hop roots decorate the proverbial sleeves of tracks like “Getting Down” and “Sour Cherry.” The Kills has always been the other side of The Bumblebeez garage-blues-for-B-boys coin (compare “Hook and Line” to the former’s “Step Back”), but Midnight Boom finds VV, Hotel, and their studio mates further exploring their metallic possibilities (Did Albini stop by with a metal pick?). There are new sounds, like the tricks that peers The White Stripes, Forget Cassettes, and Hot Chip have used to give their sound new dimensions.With Midnight Boom, 2008 has found the spit and booze to shape its reckless youth, albeit one with decent taste.