Dec 1, 2009

The Double Aughts: Hot Chip's Made in the Dark

A futuristic techno train lurches from the station, slowly clacking and building electrosteam, its synthetic beat increasing with each turn of the virtual wheel. The whistle screams as it careens downhill, the sounds peeking into the playful clattering and hooks of "Out at the Pictures," the first track on 2008's Made in the Dark from the dancepop group Hot Chip.

The bridge of "Out at the Pictures" features yelping, and is followed by the similar-in-structure "Shake a Fist." The track builds more quickly, anchored by a fat bass sweep and dense drumbeat before it pauses for some narration and explodes into 360 degrees of clicks and blips, followed by samples of more yelling and a return to the original sound.

Made in the Dark is a diverse album in three forms. Although the first two tracks predict what might be the electropop equivalent of Crunk, "Ready for the Floor" transitions towards the album's softer side. Alexis Taylor's soft-spoken vocal style has always been the warm, sincere center of Hot Chip's sound, and he's never sounded so vulnerable as when he sings "I am ready for a fall." Unsuprisingly, the track is Hot Chip's biggest hit to date, although the narrative gem "And I Was a Boy from School" from 2006 may be their magnum opus.

"Bendable Poseable" and "Don't Dance" return to the opening sound with lots of low end, but the remainder of the album's tracks are airy ballads, like ""We're Looking for a Lot of Love," or poppy dance numbers, e.g. "Touch Too Much." The relatively brief disco epic, "Hold On," a loose revision of their club banger "Over and Over," is the best of the latter. The strong use of Taylor and Joe Goddard's differing vocal styles provides a perfect example of the band's dance-inspiring potential and lyrical prowess. Take the hook, "I'm only going to heaven if it feels like hell. / I'm only going to heaven if it tastes like caramel," and the couplet "My only lesson was in my head, / but I traded if for my hand," and mix well with an overused phrase in a fresh context, like, "Sir, I have a good mind to take you outside." Pop genius.

As one of the best breakup songs in recent years, the title track frames Hot Chip as Phil Collins-level emoters. But the witty heart of Made in the Dark is "Wrestlers." The song is a simultaneously tongue-in-cheek and earnest exploration of professional wrestling as a metaphor for fighting of other kinds. The two poles of this experience are best represented by the "half nelson, full nelson, Willie Nelson" pun and the refrain of Taylor almost whispering "I think you think I'm about to throw the towel in."

This ability to balance humor with intellect and love is exactly what makes Made in the Dark one of the decade's best albums. The closing piano-and-bleeps ballad "In the Privacy of Our Love" proves that Hot Chip very well may be our current Genesis, and with One Life Stand coming early next year, they seem posed to maintain that position.