Take one part dance. One part soul. One part heartbroken trying to break free. Such is Hot Chip’s newest album, “Made in the Dark” — a mix of emotions and genres that will have you on the dance floor one second, and leave you soul-searching the next. Juxtaposing these two poles might seem jarring, but Hot Chip has always thrived on this conflict.
On the opening track, “A Night at the Pictures,” for example, the band aggressively confronts the listener with a synth-heavy sound that ultimately foils the emotion of the other tracks. Beginning with a careful crescendo, the song pulls the listener into anxious anticipation only intensified by the stop-and-go pacing of the drum and keyboard rhythm that follows. All this pent up excitement and expectation is finally released in an infectious chorus, as the song quickly and feverishly devolves into a cathartic maelstrom of drums, guitars, horns and Animal Collective-like yelping. But this (controlled?) chaos, in all its pre-gaming fist-pumping glory, only represents one end of the wide sound spectrum captured by the album.
From this point on the tracks become increasingly vulnerable, as if the opening track was intentionally rigged to set the listener off balance, more receptive to the nostalgia and emotional longing that follow. “Ready for the Floor,” the first song to introduce this new tone, is a fantastic dance-friendly single whose entertainment value, for the record, suffers little from being played on repeat for thirty minutes.
As with the rest of Hot Chip’s material, what makes the track so alluring is the engaging contrast between the woeful and the celebratory; there is a gentle vulnerability that pervades the song even as the synths climb and lead singer Alexis Taylor insists he’s “ready for the floor.” As the line repeats, it becomes clearer that he isn’t really ready for anything, but only longing, almost pleading. “I’m hoping with chance / you might take this dance / I can’t hear your voice / Do I have a choice?,” he asks at one point. It is this effusive desperation that makes the song so irresistibly catchy — the melodic equivalent of puppy dog eyes, if you will. If all this sounds overly dramatic, don’t despair; there are plenty of bouncing chords and fun video game-like electronica to keep the song just on the right side of playful. It’s a Hot Chip single, after all.
Pushing the other side of the spectrum are songs like “Made in the Dark” and “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love.” The former exemplifies the consequences of the Hot Chip approach while the latter enjoys the benefits: While “Made in the Dark” fails as a mopey ballad with overreaching lyrics, “Lot of Love” succeeds as a soulful R&B track, relying more on the spirit rather than the letter of the lyrics. Lyrics, of course, are never Hot Chip’s strong point, except maybe as a vehicle for sing-along relief. The band seems to understand this best on “Lot of Love,” as there are fewer lyrics but a stronger emphasis on vocal emotion. Strongest, in fact, are the moments where Taylor abandons lyrics altogether and instead hums with soulful intonation, the band whistling in the background. Again, this might sound somewhat cheesy or melodramatic. But with space-age blips and bleeps and hand-clapping for momentum, you’ve got another hit falling just on the right side of the balance.
Unfortunately, the rest of the album is not as consistently successful as the band walks the tightrope between pathos and play, falling, at times, too far to one side (“Whistle for Will”) and then overly compensating with the opposite (“Bubbles they Bounce”). But if Hot Chip growing as a band, taking chances with new instrumentation and new sounds, means that there will be the occasional flop, then songs like “Made for the Dark” will just have to be taken with a grain of salt. After all, it’s easy to overlook the mistakes when the hits are as good as they are.