Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hot Chip: Made in the Dark (2008)



Suppose you had a really great night. Doesn't matter what you did, eating out or having sex or clubbing or going to a Revolutionary War battlefield or watching Fantasia on a shag carpet, at the end of it you felt almost dizzy with magic-hour energy and you knew it was a time you'd remember permanently, and it might have covered just a scant three or four hours but you'll turn every minute over forever in your mind. If you could package that night, whether you've enjoyed such an experience or not, a credible theory holds that it would sound like Made in the Dark.

This blistering, crazily fast-paced pop potpourri of every dressed-up sonic impulse that ever befitted modern dance music, disco down to synthpop down to drum & bass ("Bendable Poseable" tackles it by way of U2's "Numb," all menace), was criminally misunderstood at the time as a somewhat empty refinement of Hot Chip's prior record, The Warning, a great one by all means and one with a heavy drift of melancholy and anxiety that's hard to locate on the sequel. But there's more than that; the Hot Chip of this record is lipsticked and drunk and ready, determined perhaps above all else to permanently bury the notion that synth and beat-driven music is a necessarily cold and moody affair. Taking cues as much from Donna Summer as OMD, this is a record that seems primed to explode from sheer liveliness, its every second well-crafted, entertaining, relentlessly banging, and occasionally as moving as "Boy from School" or "No Fit State"... sometimes even more so.

For those of us who joined Hot Chip at this point, it can be tough to admit that the album is mostly a refinement; being perfectly honest, I've thought of it that way for a long time now. After initially discovering it shortly after its release, I ended up putting it away for a very long time and concentrating on The Warning and later One Life Stand. But when I broke Made in the Dark from its dormancy, it seemed to jump up and all about in three dimensions thoroughly dedicated to taking me back to its world and its time, beckoning and then pulling and then running alongside. The 5000 Volts rollerdisco factory that opens the album, "Out at the Pictures," opens with the perfect nasty slow burn until its robotic relentlessness gives way to "Shake a Fist," a jungle-force dance floor subversion with high-level funk on its falsetto vocals. The heroic intensity of both songs is offset by the band's waning habit of simply playing around, here with a nonsensical interlude about "sounds of the studio." (Later on, an entire song about watching TV wrestling, and a tick tick time delay.)

But they get all that out of the way fast, because "Ready for the Floor" is pretty serious business: "do it do it do it now," chants the opening groove -- killer disgusting of course, before we're ready for a fall: a hellish beat, a polite Pet Shop Boys breakdown, a wonderfully fragmented pop song. When singers Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard start really trading their lines back and forth and that joyous sense of mutual creation takes over, you're in heaven, which incidentally is the subject of "Hold On," an insistent follow-on from both the insistence of "Ready" and the tricky undercurrent of "Boy from School" all colliding with Camouflage and early Depeche Mode, but it's a grand moment because it's the kind of hedonistic anthem that indie-courting dance music so doggedly loves to avoid. As zen messages go, you could do worse than the apt "Don't Dance," which of course is actually a totally reckless dance cut, in stop-start half formation; when it suddenly breaks in, it's breathtaking and it tastes like caramel.

The unique seating of Made in the Dark among the Hot Chip catalog might be its full integration of their modern Maximum R&B. There's still synthpop infection on "We're Looking for a Lot of Love," but at a deeper level it's pure slow jam: those perfect vocals, that bass line, that crazy chorus and whether it matters to you or not, the sly lyrics that add on to the unexpected rush of emotion. The title track's a hushed and beautiful showstopper, the short and perfect heartbreak anthem evoking the lover's pulse at closing; don't hit me with a chair for saying it, but even the novelty bit "Wrestlers" is Prince minimal and funkily repetitive, with supreme Whispers bridge -- and hey, the jokes work, even the listing of wrestling moves that gradually loses coherence. And if you said enough's enough, "Touch Too Much" may win you back, a classicist synth-funk concoction almost involuntary in its celebratory encitement of bodily movement, but the soul music remains, a debt that in the end seems far more interesting than all that the group shares with forefathers DM and PSB (they even end the album along the same lines as Very, with a short ethereal instrumental piece).

A model of pacing, Made in the Dark propels along at a clip for eleven tracks, every song a morsel. Then at the finale, it stops short a bit, it seems intentionally: with the artificial Mr. Mister slow one "Whistle for WIll" and the semi-gospel piano balladry of "In the Privacy of Our Love," which is in some ways a fitting conclusion -- the retreat back into normalcy and reflection after the grand time out. The effect is the same, anyway; you know you'll love them always now. It could be just romance, I guess; Taylor had just gotten married and the whole album's written about that experience. For me it's something more singular, something about the way all of the various things that might affect you emotionally are what they are, and it's the emotions themselves that linger and shape the narrative of your life, color it.

But we've missed talking about "One Pure Thought," because it's special. An army of exclamation marks would seem insufficient. This is the epicenter of the triumph, the moment when the adrenaline rushes most of all -- especially in memory. The song's too good, too much of a perfect fusion of confusion and melody and dance, probably the best song of its kind since the New Order days, to grab ahold of all at once. It has to endure in the mind, perhaps along with the vague suggestion of some peak of life, some real determination of living it. (All the lives of these people stopping long enough to dance, etc.) I don't know what it's really about. I won't be on my way, or I will? The yearn in Taylor's voice at the chorus, that's what it's about. But you think about being somewhere when it's on, and as soon as that cacophonious guitar intro starts, you're completely there.

One Life Stand (2010)
We Have Remixes EP (2010)

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