Album Review: Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
Why Make Sense? (Domino)
It may not sound particularly exciting, but one of Hot Chip’s greatest gifts is the group’s consistency. Six albums and fifteen years into their musical voyage, they still come up with the goods on a regular basis, their catalogue evolving into one of the most steadily assured collections in modern dance music. There may be nothing that quite matches the giddy thrill of witnessing a band’s skyrocketing ascension on the back of an earth-shattering début, but where many come unstuck is proving their longevity in a fickle market. While Hot Chip have never struck it big with an undeniable classic, their reliability and musical nous have made them compelling players, appealing to hipster purists and mainstream onlookers alike. The mantra that kicks off Why Make Sense? is Alexis Taylor’s deadpan drawl “replace us with the things that do the job better”, but in a market of flash-in-the-pan success stories, Hot Chip are a pop band to be cherished.
Their steady inflation reached its magical zenith with 2012’s In Our Heads, on which the five-piece finally struck a pristine balance between technical smarts and emotional frankness. On Why Make Sense?, Hot Chip sound more polished than ever before, but their recent trajectory into blissful euphoria is rerouted. If throbbing lead single ‘Huarache Lights’ sounded like a clarion call for dancefloor escapism, its parent album is a more muddled affair emotionally. Where In Our Heads and One Life Stand were characterised by sunny optimism and merrily-scribbled hooks on all sides, Why Make Sense? is more reserved, spiking its devotion with seeds of doubt, and stripping away some of the bombast to cut to the heart of more personal matters.
The results may be less thrilling than previous offerings, but Why Make Sense? still sparkles with invention, fresh ideas and quirks still fidgeting through every pore in Hot Chip’s songcraft. De La Soul’s Pos lends a verse to the sad-eyed shuffle ‘Love is the Future’, and the (Stevie) Wonderful strut of ‘Started Right’ lopes through basic terrain, but swirls into an irresistible and immaculately-tiered chorus. Both sport the ‘70s-indebted funk flavours which are the most notable new fixtures in Hot Chip’s arsenal, with squelchy clavinets, stub-toed bass and soulful harmonies incorporated into their stylistic palette. They may be more composed these days, but Taylor and co. aren’t afraid to let a slinkiness creep into their music from time to time, most prominently so on ‘Easy to Get’. Taylor lets sensuality take over as he purrs to a paramour in the wee hours, crooning that “there is something about you left on my cigarette”. His nocturnal odyssey is punctuated by a wonderfully camp group vocal: “fear doesn’t live here anymore!” One imagines that few other contemporary acts could make such cheesy earnestness sound both palatable and strangely heartening.
It’s good wholesome fun, but Why Make Sense? still can’t shake a sense of vulnerability throughout its runtime; a sense of concern which slows the general pace and clouds the rosier moments. Those hoping for hit after euphoric hit may be disappointed, but in truth, the real gems to be found are the album’s most open-hearted segments. The endearingly gentle ‘White Wine and Fried Chicken’ sees waltz-time keyboards nuzzle up against a lovely vocal from Taylor, and for all the song’s brevity, it still yields a rapturously simple la-la-la conclusion. Better still is ‘Need You Now’, where a moody house rhythm and a well-judged Sinnamon sample provide the backdrop for some heartfelt soul-searching. “Never dreamed we would belong in a world that’s just gone wrong,” Taylor croons, before a beautiful interlude starring Joe Goddard raises the track to another level entirely. It’s one of the band’s best releases to date, and possibly their most moving.
It’s clear that treasures are in abundance, but it can be a little frustrating that Why Make Sense? never settles into a singularly smooth listen, wavering instead in mid-tempo numbers and rarely giving itself over to exultation. However, this is trumped by the fact that Hot Chip’s heartbeat remains front-and-centre, the group’s deft touch grounding these songs in a warm humanity. Most importantly, they never leave behind that crucial sense of wonder. The album climaxes with its monstrous title track; a towering and triumphant wall of sound conjured by Sarah Jones’ dizzying drum pummels. As the whole chassis shakes and judders and the band rally together for a final push, Taylor grants the album its moment of defiant elation: “why be tough, when strength is just for losers? Be what you are at the mercy of your rulers”. It sounds like a rocket taking off. Of course, stratospheric success has never seemed likely for Hot Chip, but Why Make Sense? adds subtle new dimensions to their already-strong canon. They’re right where they should be.
“Why make sense / When the world around refuses?”
Posted on May 28, 2015, in The Music World and tagged Al Doyle, Album Review, Alexis Taylor, Domino, Hot Chip, Huarache Lights, Joe Goddard, Need You Now, Started Right, White Wine and Fried Chicken, Why Make Sense?. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.