Writing music reviews is weird business. Often you know what you’re going to get when you read a particular guy (or listen to a particular band).
Some people are looking for new music. Some don’t wanna hear what you have to say about their favorite band. What critics do from their various papers, websites and rooftop bunkers is provide a discussion. You can take it all in or choose to ignore it.
When I was writing music reviews for the Bradley Scout (the university’s paper, not one of my own founding), my editors, one week, jokingly decided to make me write about the Backstreet Boys’ new album. I was the same guy back then – trying to find cool new rock acts week after week. I told them I was fine with that, but there was absolutely no way I wasn’t going to spend a few thousand words ripping on the album and the entire state of the music industry. Who I was – and who the Backstreet Boys were – simply necessitated that to happen (who didn’t know they weren’t about to drop the next ska/punk masterpiece?).
So I did. I ripped the Backstreet Boys line after line in a column that was only useful for a good laugh. Nobody needed that review to happen. And it didn’t slow the Boys down. Neither did it stop the people from dancing. Perhaps one enlightened bro at a frat party somewhere finally thought “I wonder who plays all the instruments?” right before somebody passed him a beer bong. But nothing changed and Backstreet Boys fans didn’t care.
It was such a useless review that I used the last couple of paragraphs to announce the other albums out that week. “You can’t do that in a music review!” my editors said. But I did that, too. (For future reference, it’s amazing how many people stand idly by when you offer this powerful counter-argument: “Sure I can.”)
This is going to sound a lot like what I recently said about a very different band in Japandroids, but Hot Chip is vibrant enough and good enough at what they do to keep plowing ahead. The world needs more good, percussive, intelligent, trippy dance music just like it needs more crazy, raucous rock.
It's already fun. There's no reason to constantly re-invent it (yet).
Calling this a “normal Hot Chip record” at this point is pretty much the highest praise for a band that I hold in the highest esteem (I probably say that a lot, but Hot Chip has been a top-five-favorite band of mine for maybe four years now).
This is headphone music.
It’s the music I wish they played in clubs (I still wouldn’t be much of a club guy, but it’d be nice to know). You can see Hot Chip as electro-pop-whatever – and yeah, it’s keyboard-centric and highly danceable – but these are tunes you can get lost in your head to.
“Good writing music,” I’ve often called it and others who use beats, repetition, un-obtrusive, swirling voices and noises – Pink Floyd, Yello (Hot Chip’s cool uncle) or TV on the Radio.
Hot Chip are in a very good place right now: they’ve put out five albums since 2004 – that’s a full LP of new material, promptly, every two years – but it’s impossible to cliché it up with “each one better than the last,” because 2006’s The Warning was a masterpiece and 2010’s One Life Stand was a quarter-ton of fun (just don’t feed it after dark). They’re all solid.
In Our Heads hasn’t passed those two as my favorite yet, but we’re still just getting to know each other.
Whether you’re a maniacal Hot Chip-aholic with glow-stick earrings and Vans ready to kick, or simply dug “Ready for the Floor” on your awesomest local station, be assured that In Our Heads is similarly great stuff. (And consider – various members of this band also lend time performing in side projects The 2 Bears and New Build.)
The beginning few tracks of the album are energetic and danceable. They don’t stand out like some of Hot Chip’s more quirky hits, but that comes later. Track four (“Look at Where We Are”) is a bright, earnest ballad sung by an always sincere Alexis Taylor that weirdly slows nothing down.
Tracks 5 through 7 are the butter here ("Flutes," first live vid below). These types of songs are how Hot Chip earns their paycheck.
Honestly I don’t know enough about the history of dance, house or disco to say how much each batch of songs put out by these guys is influenced by what. I’m also pretty sure that nobody cares, because this is good music.
In other news, Fiona Apple dropped a new album on Tuesday. That probably needs a review…
But L. is listening to it first.
[ Hot Chip will be at the Chicago Pitchfork Festival at Union Park on July 14th ]