AGING GRACEFULLY On Hot Chip's In Our Heads, the London electronic pop quintet tackle marital bliss, fatherly pride, and the joys of musical brotherhood.
"You don't always just feel one thing at one time," says Alexis Taylor, Hot Chip's nerd-genius frontman, referencing the grand ambiguity of pop music. "You're often feeling all kinds of different things in relation to different people, so why should a song not be about three or four people in one go?" With their deeply quirky (and oddly touching) brand of electronic pop, Taylor and his gang of misfit Brits have mastered the very art of harnessing disparate emotions — such as heartbreaking sadness and ass-accosting dance-floor joy — simultaneously.
Critics have rightfully mused on Hot Chip's ever-evolving maturation: their largely bedroom-produced debut album, Coming on Strong (2005) bounced joyously from lo-fi funk to booming house music to gangster-rap parody, the eclecticism laced with tongue-in-cheek mischief. "Twenty-inch rims with the chrome now, ayyy," sings co-frontman Joe Goddard on the slow-jam masterpiece "Playboy." On another track, Taylor is "sick of motha-fuckas tryin' to tell me that they're down with Prince," spewing sheepish rap-isms and backwoods barnyard chanting over watery slap-bass. That overt silliness has softened with each successive release; and on In Our Heads (Domino), the group's excellent fifth album, they're far more comfortable singing about marital bliss, fatherly pride, or the joys of musical brotherhood — without a wink in sight. When Goddard croons, "How do you do it?/You make me want to live again!" on the blistering disco rush of "How Do You Do?," he's likely singing about all three.
On the surface, it's difficult to make sense of the band's gradual shift from tomfoolery to maturity. On paper, "Down with Prince" and "How Do You Do?" seem like the work of two different bands, with two different musical philosophies. But in Taylor's universe, there's almost no distinction: within his bespectacled head lies a brain that soaks up pop music like a sponge, pulsing with a laughably rich tapestry of influences. To Taylor, pop is pop — and anything goes.
"Now There Is Nothing" is a psychedelic ballad that moves their sculpted rhythms and melodies through exciting new textures, with Taylor's angelic voice floating over funky rhythms, winding chord changes, and abrupt tempo shifts. But, just like the glittery synth-pop madness of "Motion Sickness" or the lush, epic trance of "Flutes," the track is crafted seamlessly — a surprise when you learn just how disparate its influences are. Taylor calls "Now There Is Nothing" "the single piece of music I'm most proud of having made" — a bizarro mix of Prince-esque beats, McCartney-esque vocal melodies, and "rubbery" synths modeled after Alex Chilton's "Like Flies on Sherbert." Oh, plus the all-around '80s awesomeness of the Raising Arizona soundtrack. But it's more than just a groovy hodgepodge. Inspired both by fatherhood and the death of drummer Rob Smoughton's mother (which happened last year while the band was on tour), Taylor reflected on the tragic and beautifully human "sense of something being missing."