“Band makes great fifth album” is not a line you hear often. Most musicians have either split, been dropped or mislaid the quality control button by the time they come near to what is effectively a decade or more of work.
Not Hot Chip, who sound more comfortable, more confident and downright better with each release. The London-based dance quintet have had a higher profile in the past —Mercury-nominated for their second album in 2006, scoring their only top 10 hit in 2008 with Ready for the Floor — but they’re becoming a band to treasure for the long-term, an idiosyncratic bunch who offer something few others can.
If you like dance music but can do without the brain-dead party-time lyrics, they’re your men. If you don’t need endless costume changes and an army of screaming children around you to appreciate big pop tunes, they can help there too. While the computerised qualities of synthpop have long struggled to deliver emotional resonance, there’s something about the high, dreamy tones of Hot Chip’s main singer Alexis Taylor that gives depth to even the shiniest moments.
As they begin a new life on Domino Records, the large independent that also looks after Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, their star is rising again. In a busy summer of festivals, they have headlining spots at both Camp Bestival in Dorset and Lovebox in Hackney. The video for their frantic new single, Night and Day, is directed by comedian Peter Serafinowicz and stars model Lara Stone, comic Reggie Watts and Hollywood star Terence Stamp pulling mean faces.
The rest of the new album, In Our Heads, is a delight. Mostly staying away from all-out floor-fillers, Let Me Be Him features co-frontman Joe Goddard singing in slow motion over birdsong and skittering beats. Now There Is Nothing has some of Air’s melodic gracefulness, despite being propelled by an electronic noise that sounds like a dog barking. These Chains features a brooding bassline and disco-funk guitar. Though another big hit isn’t immediately obvious, the album hangs together more coherently for that reason.
The move from EMI to an indie label should have taken some of the pressure off the band to be pop stars, an idea that never sat comfortably with them. They have appeared at Radio 1 roadshows and remixed Amy Winehouse, Plan B and Scissor Sisters, but talk of writing songs with Adele and Kylie never came to fruition and they’ve generally kept the mainstream pop world at arm’s length.
To the band’s obvious irritation, much has been made of the fact that collectively they look more like a University Challenge team than a pop group. Taylor, who performs side-on and doesn’t talk to the audience between songs, is short and wears big glasses. Their careers advisors might have suggested that they follow a more obvious route in music towards being backroom songwriters and producers for the real stars, so it’s immensely gratifying that instead they have developed a storming live show full of movement and energy.
The look, or lack of it, may have contributed towards a perception that there was irony at play, at least early on, when Taylor could be heard mimicking a gangsta rapper on Keep Fallin’: “Give up all you suckers, we the tightest motherfuckers.” Mostly Oxbridge-educated, they might have appeared to be too clever by half.
Today, though, there’s a joyfulness to their sound that shows a genuine love for electronic pop. And most excitingly, if they keep this up, albums six and seven will be even better.