A Cultural Kaleidoscope

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Made in the Dark

HOT CHIP – Made in the Dark

3.5 Stars

Sounds Like: LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture

From the opening drone of the keys which slowly gains momentum to the final soft, soulful ballad, Made in the Dark leads listeners on a journey through a sonic labyrinth. The third LP from Hot Chip consists of simple melodies and repetitive synthesizer riffs that seem to have a clear path and an end in sight. But, like a basketball player who executes a crossover dribble, Hot Chip employs sudden breaks and swings the play in an unexpected direction.

The British quintet samples Todd Rundgren’s “Intro” from Something/Anything? in the middle of massive bass lines and heavy layers of percussion on the track “Shake a Fist,” which strangely makes sense in the larger context of the album: to expect the unexpected. The spoken word directs the audience to try to pick out the studio and production sounds that do not belong on the album. In line with the enigmatic mentality of the members of Hot Chip, wrong is right and imperfections somehow make things perfect.

If this already seems like a patchwork of sounds and ideas, add in the fact that Hot Chip blends soul with R & B, dance, pop, techno, electronic, reggae and rock. It’s difficult to place a genre label on this quirky group. And it seems like they aim for ambiguity. “Don’t Dance” is one of the most energy-charged, danceable tracks on the album, yet lead vocalist Alexis Taylor (who recalls Nick Drake) repetitively croons the hook “Don’t dance/ Don’t dance” in his high falsetto.

Synth-heavy electro-pop numbers filled with hand-claps, drum machines, and various percussive instruments including bongos, shakers, and wood blocks dominate the album. Songs like “Bendable, Posable” reference hip-hop, while “Touch Too Much” reveals Afrobeat influences and carries a barrage of drum patterns, blaring synthesizers, and vocal looping. Al Doyle’s disco guitar style is most apparent on “Hold On” and calls to mind James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem. Other tracks find the group harmonizing with organ chords like a church choir. And with an entire song dedicated to wrestling terminology and name-checking a folk icon, (“here we come, drop-kick/ half-nelson, full-nelson/ Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson”), the album is anything but boring.

Taylor and Joe Goddard (who share songwriting duties and sometimes lead vocals) prove that penning ballads and meaningful lyrics are just as much their forte as crafting dance tracks with catchy beats. 2006’s The Warning was an exploration into other sounds beyond Hot Chip’s usual DJing, but Made in the Dark evolves a step farther, as the band is able to segue easily between musical moods and styles to create a cohesive textural collage.


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