x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Hot Chip: One Life Stand

The electro-pop group Hot Chip focus on melody and achieve a cohesive coming-of-age album with One Life Stand.

The once dislocated worlds of indie and dance are now so inextricably linked that no one is quite sure where one begins and the other ends. The unstoppable rise of the British electro-pop group Hot Chip has almost come to represent the blossoming of this somewhat unlikely marriage. With the songwriting sensibility (not to mention vocabulary) of art school students and the toolbox of sounds one might expect from a rave outfit, the group's first three LPs cut a tantalising if somewhat jagged path to the centre of many music lovers' hearts.

But with One Life Stand, the five-piece band has tamed its desire to agitate and instead brought melody to the fore. This has largely meant canning the laser noises and beat-driven numbers that featured heavily on their last two releases, The Warning and Made in the Dark. Instead, disco tunes and the respectable end of house music have become the major sonic influences. The opener Thieves in the Night perfectly sums up what the band's new sound is all about: emotionally supercharged pop. Beginning with a slow synth drone, the track quickly builds into something instantly recognisable as Hot Chip, with bounding bass, echoing handclaps and racing electronics. Alexis Taylor's vocals are more tender than ever and the track ends up sounding like Paul McCartney fronting the Pet Shop Boys. Then, after about three minutes, something totally unexpected happens: a guitar solo that sounds so welcome, it will knock you sideways. When was the last time that happened?

The follow-up track Hand Me Down Your Love is one of the album's most upbeat numbers, with a Motown groove and fast and steady drums. I Feel Better initially seems like the album's first misfire, beginning with a synth that sounds like it's been borrowed from Destiny's Child. Then a headache-inducing auto-tuned vocal arrives. But after about a minute (or by the time most people will be reaching for the skip button), the song gets rather good. The auto-tune is replaced by another fine vocal performance from Taylor and the track builds into something that could sit happily on Daft Punk's Discovery.

However, there are a few tracks on the record that don't just start badly; they end badly, too. Brothers, Keep Quiet and Alley Cats all represent the more sickly side of the band's new sound. The cloying ballads lack the wealth of ideas that make the album's first half such a pleasure, and are particularly noticeable because of their placement - one after another in the album's middle section. Thankfully, things improve greatly towards the end. We Have Love is the track most obviously crafted for the dance floor, brilliantly mixing a dubstep-esque baseline with more traditional house and disco elements.

This may be the group's most musically accomplished and cohesive album, but it's some way from being their most fun one. Although they have crafted something truly memorable here, it's difficult not to pine for the thumping outlandishness of some of their previous singles such as Over and Over or Ready for the Floor. The title track One Life Stand and the opener Thieves in the Night both have some of these elements, but lack the crucial punch of the group's biggest hits.

One Life Stand is undoubtedly Hot Chip's coming-of-age record, making up in emotional resonance what it lacks in youthful exuberance (and there's still quite a bit of that). Most importantly, it represents the point when the band ceased to be just an idea - the ultimate offspring of indie and dance - and became one of the most versatile and essential groups making music today.