After living with the new Hot Chip album for the best part of a week, it feels like my thoughts about it are finally beginning to coalesce. They’re a curious band, I think: a consummate, bright pop band on the one hand; a group whose songs gradually insinuate themselves over time. What initially appears slight, eventually becomes unforgettable.
I guess this is why I held off writing about “Made In The Dark” immediately. Though songs like “Over And Over” , “Boy From School” and “Colours” still loop round in my head, months after I last played “The Warning”, they didn’t lodge immediately. With a certain logic, the first song to stick from “Made In The Dark” has been the first proper single, “Ready For The Floor”. Again, it’s a sneaky little indie-pop song smuggled in under the cover of a modish electronic production. And again, it’s sat comfortably in my mind for the foreseeable future.
In general, though, it seems as if the appealing frailty of “The Warning” has been covered up by a relatively heavier, dirtier, funkier sound. With a vocalist like Alexis Taylor, of course, Hot Chip are never going to be butch, exactly, but the tweeness of that last record – and for once I use the word as a positive, not as a pejorative – isn’t quite as pronounced. There’s still the sense of little-boy-lost-in-nightclub, but this time the nightclub is conceivably a bit more debauched, and the little boy has got a bit more confidence.
Consequently, “Made In The Dark” kicks off with a flurry of synths that approximately replicate, as the sage John Robinson to my left just noted, the Penguin Café Orchestra, then thumps off into a cranky, but comparatively steely-eyed melange of squirts, yelps, jackhammer beats and deviously catchy hooks that goes by the name of “Out At The Pictures”. There’s definitely a desire to jar, avoid cutesiness, this time, hence plenty of migraine-frequency repetitions and a generally rougher touch to tracks like the Todd Rundgren-sampling “Shake A Fist”, the nagging “Bendable Poseable” and “Touch Too Much”, which highlights a certain kind of modernist R&B influence that’s much more comprehended and processed than most examples of indie boys with a Timbaland fetish.
The latter, especially, sets itself up to be something of an irritant, but Hot Chip constantly, cleverly evade anything quite so straightforward. I must admit that, right now, this grittier strategy isn’t working for me quite as well as the softer touch of “The Warning”. But like I said at the start, with every listen, the brainy and powerful heart of “Made In The Dark” becomes more visible beneath the layers of twitch and obfuscation.
I think I’ve more or less got the hang of the first half of this longish, absorbing album. But, as I write, the back end is starting to make more sense, too: the minimal, plaintive ballads like the title track, “Wrestlers” (somewhere between Aaliyah and Flight Of The Conchords, more or less) and the two poignant closers, “Whistle For Will” and “In The Privacy Of Our Love”, that sound more soulful and less affected than previous quiet moments; and some meaty, fairly rocking things like “One Pure Thought”, “Hold On” and the fantastic second phase of “Don’t Dance”.
It’s out in February, I believe. Once every tune is keeping me awake, I’ll try and revisit this one.