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Hot Chip - Made in the Dark

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Artist: Hot Chip

Album: Made in the Dark

Label: DFA / Astralwerks

Review date: Feb. 1, 2008

Though the titles of their first two records – 2004's Coming on Strong and 2006's The Warning – alerted to some incoming fierceness, it's on album No. 3 that Hot Chip finally make good on the those Hulk hands they brandished in early promo stills. All boosted lumens, bold colors and slashing guitars, Made in the Dark is neon bright and flicker-fidgety. It has passages of total DFA-like frequency gush, when the band seems to overhaul its tracks midstream, rubbing up against its most stark, lovelorn balladry yet.

Songwriters Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor so effortlessly lock into Hot Chip's current five-man electro party band configuration that it's hard to recall that they were largely a duo on the group's debut. With its meek bedroom pop evoking skeletal Scritti Politti sans structuralism but with plenty of Destiny's Child, Coming on Strong boasted heart-fluttering melodies amid a clutter of bleeps from bargain-basement gear and, most noticeably, an open filtration with R&B and hip-hop tropes. The latter, debatably comic, element, stank of a stale pisstake to some.

But Hot Chip is, in fact, a sort of foil to the likes of M.I.A., whose front of third world guerrilla-as-hustler (as noted by Dusted's Otis Hart in his 2007 round-up) "feels incredibly disingenuous, which is perhaps why we can not only stomach the absurdity, but revel in it." As opposed to M.I.A.'s systematically polyglot and forced "realness," Hot Chip is awkwardly, really real: techy middle class white Brits emphatically emulating "black" music. No wonder Taylor is collaborating with Green Gartside. Chip's lack of a "critical theory" pedigree make them fluff to some, but I keep coming back.

Though it may hardly win over detractors, there's not much of Made in the Dark that can be lambasted as puckish or precious (other than a fleeting mention to the macarena and the whole of "Wrestlers," tucked in the album's final stretch, with its goofy, needlessly-repeated schoolyard dick pun). Like "Careful" on The Warning, opener "Out at the Pictures" is a prompt startle. Over faint traces of applause, a single oscillator cycles like Delia & Gavin warming up for a laser-guided voyage. But with its lockstep organ/guitar jitters and Apache yelps, "Out at the Pictures" evokes jukebox'd shindigs. The friction between the groups weakling vocals – Taylor's thin and sweet tenor offset by Goddard's couch potato croak – and their synthetic surroundings has become all the more pronounced now that they sing in a jumble of vivid shapes and thick textures. The rickety funk of "Shake a Fist" pauses for a spoken interlude from no less a studio geek than Todd Rundgren circa Something/Anything?, inviting listeners to don their headphones before Hot Chip unleash cartoon thunderbolts and chopped screams.

But the group also peels back all the jerky rhythms and laptop splatter for a handful of slo-mo weepies exemplified by the album's title track and the inexplicably-Black-Dice-dedicated "We're Looking for a Lot of Love" (maybe it's the fx-blown coos and cries that bed its rockabye shuffle). "Made in the Dark" is so bare and short, it could be a demo. A piano, silvery streaks of guitar, a sneaking strip of synth and the slightest pops of a drum machine accompany Taylor as he recounts insecurities, breakup, self-reflection and makeup.

As a whole, Made in the Dark feels a tad long. Its frontloaded with pop juggernauts and doesn't quite balance these herky-jerky, crazed jumbles of blocky beats and blasting modules with the gentler, Shuggie 'n Sly bespectacled-blue-eyed soul yearn. As evinced by the disc's first single, "Ready for the Floor," with all of its chunky thwacks, swished guitars and glistening arpeggios, Hot Chip truly excel in individual tracks, not whole records. That's why they're solid remixers, these junior Ewan Pearsons. They build up to ridiculous, teetering peaks, all the while brandishing the fragility of their skyscraping constructions. An inevitable compilation of their commissions and A-sides will likely stand as their great long-player.

By Bernardo Rondeau

Other Reviews of Hot Chip

The Warning

One Life Stand

In Our Heads

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