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Destined: Hot Chip

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Sam Hunt profiles UK merry pranksters Hot Chip.

Destined: Hot Chip

  • Download Playboy from Coming On Strong

One way to describe Hot Chip would be to use co-founder Joe Goddard’s explanation of the band’s name: “You know the feeling when you put a chip or French fry into your mouth and it’s much too hot and it burns your tongue? It's a really immediate, undeniable, exploding feeling. We wanted to make music like that.” Another likely more accessible and accurate summation can be found in “Keep Fallin’,” the third song on their debut record, Coming On Strong, on which band-members Alexis Taylor Joe Goddard (who in nerdier moments refer to each other as Ulysses and Sophocles) sing: ”Me and Ulysses / We’re like Gene and Dean Ween / We’re like brothers making records who can’t play things.”

If nothing else, there’s something to be said for a band that, while talking about their favorite music, cites Will Oldham’s Arise Therefore in nearly the same breath as Ween’s infamous rejected Pizza Hut jingle (”Where’s the motherfuckin’ cheese at?!”). More impressive still is that, upon hearing this from them, it makes perfect sense. Hot Chip's debut album, Coming On Strong, (Moshi Moshi) combines dark and somber melodies and lyrics with utter absurdity and parody as comfortably and as non-obnoxiously as anyone in recent memory.

The fact that Prince is probably Hot Chip’s clearest melodic reference point is, to a reader, quite deceptive, as their songs are considerably more restrained and the singers’ vocal chords considerably more limited. But their wandering melodies and endearingly impassioned singing is quite reminiscent of the Paisley Park-era, where catchiness took brief precedence over funk. It’s not surprising, then, to learn that Alexis Taylor (the soprano and half of the band’s songwriting squad) is a huge Prince fan. Equally unsurprising is baritone Joe Goddard’s love of hip hop. While this doesn’t come across melodically, Hot Chip’s lyrics ride a very fine line of being awkwardly amusing, but not annoyingly patronizing.

Taylor and Goddard met when they were 12, and while a mutual love for the WWF was an adequate foundation for friendship, Taylor’s Prince obsession and Goddard’s rap/hip hop interest were initially at odds. “When I first met Alexis I had not yet realized the genius of Prince,” Goddard said. “I think I'd only seen the ‘Batdance’ video on TV and heard that he was short and really liked to have sex. I came into conflict with Alexis many times over Prince, as he does not like to hear a bad word said of Mr. Rogers Nelson.”

While the two have clearly come to see eye to eye a bit more, this fundamental conflict produces a songwriting and production synergy in Hot Chip that is quite unique. The song “Playboy” begins with Taylor’s morosely soulful vocal sung over a slo-mo hip hop beat and moves into the equally morose, but more assertive Goddard-sung chorus of ”Driving in my Peugeot, yeah yeah yeah / 20-inch rims with the chrome now, yeah yeah yeah / Blazin’ out Yo La Tengo, yeah yeah yeah.” It has a smart-assed quality that is certainly not unique – plenty of geeky white guys have tried to find humor in quoting rap stars – but that, in the context of such crisp production, catchy songwriting, and general unpretentiousness, is quite charming.

Their juxtaposition of the serious with the silly is quite risky. If nothing else it fogs the bands intentions to the point where their final product is quite difficult to assess – when Taylor belts out ”whooo let the dooogs out?” (on “Bad Luck”), can it be both dopey and pretty? And if so, what is more important? When Goddard and Taylor reach a perfect harmony while singing the kindly touching chorus “You ride, we ride, in my ride, in my ride we ride,” does the pop reference blend with the prettiness, or does it negate it? Goddard explains this potential contradiction with surprising clarity: “We do intentionally make some parts funny in a quite childish way and some parts deadly serious. A lot of our favorite music is sad and upsetting. Maybe my favorite album ever is Arise Therefore by Will Oldham on which the first line of the first song is: ’How could anyone ever think anything’s permanent?’ And although we are making a kind of pop music I still want to get bits into it that make people think about serious and introspective things. We put these clownish funny things and these sad things in because we don't want our music to convey just one emotion, and we do it all in a quite homemade, DIY way because I think that makes it seem more truthful.”

To see the band live (which I have only done via a Realvideo stream at the BBC’s website) adds an entirely new element to the appreciation of the experience, as it allows the listener to appreciate just how regular (read: white) the band members actually are, but at the same time how cheerfully charming. They have not performed in North America yet, but have had a good deal of success performing around Europe. Goddard posits that to the fact that “at the moment in England there are hundreds and hundreds of new guitary rock bands, most of whom sound a little dull but OK, a couple of whom are pretty good - but it’s almost all guitar music. We stand apart from all of that as we have four keyboards and a drum machine and a little bit of guitar. But it kind of makes us feel isolated; there is no real scene or anything that we're part of.”

Without a record label in North America the band remain relatively unknown in the United States, but in the UK where on-the-side label Moshi Moshi released Coming On Strong last May, Hot Chip have received some nice attention from the trend-setting stalwarts of British popular culture. This March the band is coming to perform in the States for the first time ever, where they will play a shows in New York and at South by Southwest.

Coming On Strong is available now from the Moshi Moshi store. You can learn more about Hot Chip at www.hotchip.co.uk.

By Sam Hunt

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