Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Clearly someone at Hot Chip base couldn’t hack the competition.
Since the band released patchy third album Made In The Dark early in 2008 other graduates of Putney’s Elliot School have not only peaked above the popular music parapet but leapt right over it to snag critical acclaim.
Later in 2008 Dubstep producer Will Bevan, who plies his trade with the moodier moniker Burial, saw a hefty sales increase after winning a Mercury Music Prize nomination.
Last year belonged to The xx, the young band whose stunning, elliptical debut album featured at or near the top of many album of the year lists.
To Dem Chip Mans' (as no one has ever called them or probably will again) credit, in 2010 there is little chance of another Elliot alumnus surpassing their latest offering.
From big singles like the staggering, probably career-best anthem Over And Over to awkward-funk album tracks like Keep Fallin’ and Down With Prince via the odd superb non-album single like My Piano, Hot Chip’s confident way with a sorrow-soul dancefloor definite has never been in doubt.
But across their opening trio of albums, they never delivered a consistent enough end product.
One Life Stand sees Alexis Taylor-fronted band brush off the “Great singles band” tag in convincing fashion.
Just to get the one less-than-exceptional moment out of the way first, Slush is less great than the other nine tunes here. As ballads go it chimes away pleasantly enough and unexpectedly includes some steel drums in a melancholic fashion. It just wouldn’t soundtrack Del looking wistful at the end of Rodney’s wedding reception as poignantly as Simply Red’s Holding Back The Years does.
There’s no massive need to think about Slush yet (UK residents have had quite enough of it during this winter), but it does crop up on track six, so be warned.
Back at the start Thieves In The Night begins the album well. Drums that recall the more breakbeat-influenced tracks by The Chemicals Brothers like Under The Influence slot into a song half Air-gone-dark, half Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.
Hand Me Down Your Love sees the introduction of old-skool pianos of the kind you can hear at Back To ’92 raves and on Northern Soul records. There’s also a beat half-inched from Doves' Pounding.
Are these south-west Londoners only listening to their own record label’s back catalogue now?
String samples figure heavily here and on I feel Better, with the latter notable for an autotuned Joe Goddard vocal. It’s also another occasion steel drums are wheeled out. Twice in one album? Did Super Furry Animals even have the balls to do that?
On the title track there seems to be even more drumming of the kind Londoners usually only clock on August bank holiday in Notting Hill amid crushed Red Stripe cans and jerk chicken bones. Like an especially chilli sauce-covered kebab after seven pints of Wifebeater*, it’s a brave choice, but worth taking a chance on.
The chorus and verses on One Life Stand are both excellent, if completely different. Each verse has a dark UK garage feel, like the sort of track Zed Bias used to put out years before grime became a going concern, albeit with a beat more at home on a current funky or progressive house tune. [That means funky as in the contemporary genre you can hear on pirates rather than funky in a '70s James Brown sense.] For the chorus, it’s a different story – all euphoric Prince chords and lubricated guitar. Like 12 Monkeys, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but you can’t help but admire it.
As with the three past records there are a few ballads on this fourth, but when they come wrapped up as lovingly as Alley Cats, it’s hard to complain. It sounds like a particularly great song by The Whitest Boy Alive, but also sounds like the cab ride home in the morning after one of those nights that makes life worth living.
We Have Love will be one for the fans who got off on seeing Hot Chip perform Wearing My Rolex with Eskibeat originator and unexpected chart conqueror Wiley at Glastonbury 2008. Unquestionably influenced by that east London legend, it’ll probably go down well with the bassline crowd, too. Thunderous stuff: odd, wobbly and malevolent like someone remaking The Wicker Man in the main room at Fabric.
Towards the conclusion of OLS Keep Quiet has an expansive, haunting quality. Fever Ray and the last Portishead's 3 may have been key influences. That last album may have been made in it, but this song should certainly be listened to in the dark.
Take It In rounds things off in a smoky, mischievous Xpress 2 style. Perhaps the most banging track is saved for last and one that ostensibly made for a 4am dancefloor. This could only be expected with that wink of a title. Whether they're on about dangerous narcotics or academic learning, listening will almost certainly lead to a happier life.
As with the rest of One Life Stand, pleasure will come to those who imbibe repeatedly.
*Note to non-drinkers: This is one of many crude nicknames for strong Belgian lager Stella Artois.