Hot Chip: Coming on Strong (Astralwerks)

hotchip.jpgThere are certain bands that beam with near geeky adulation at their musical influences, their own recordings consequently saturated with borrowed riffs, beats and melodic lines. Rather than being derivative, though, a band’s open adoration can operate like happy contagion, with bands refashioning familiar sounds into fresh, laidback homages. Such is the charm of British electronica four-piece Hot Chip, whose latest record Coming on Strong breathes adoration of the loungey groove, ranging from ’70s disco to early ’80s R & B overtones, with nods to Prince and Stevie Wonder, and some free jazz swirled into the mix. Against this loungey-cool framework, the band stamps on its own nerdy sense of humor, making for an enjoyable contrast of cool meets square.

The best track on this record “Crap Kraft Dinner” is an example of such a winning contrast. The track starts off with an elemental backbeat and Sade-like female vocals singing a single melodic line as the backbeat builds and subtle wah-wah effects, electronica blips, keyboard lines and more textured rhythms work their way into the track. Just as the serious groove sets in, the squareness breaks onto the track, male vocals joining to sing “All you have left is one Kraft dinner that I brought back for you last summer…All you can hear is my refusal cause I haven’t got the time for a jerk-off loser.” From the silly, forlorn humor, the song returns to its cool groove, with the Sade-like vocals moving into the fore, along with an expertly integrated saxophone part whose melody adds yet another layer of groovey mood to the track. Cool meets utterly square.

Much of the record is enjoyable in a similar way, with musical references littered about and then matched by sideways glances and awkward turns of phrase in the lyrics—either plain ridiculous, or like in “Beach Party,” lyrics that work toward purposeful parody. “Don’t want all this gold gold shit, throw off your shirt and let’s get hot hot hot...I like to rock, rock, I like to rock rock,” the male vocals poke gentle fun at the hip hop bling bling girl girl girls! culture which songs entitled “Beach Party” ordinarily espouse. Despite the lyrical goofiness, though, the instrumentals, fat beats and electronic melodic touches are far from spoof, with tightness of rhythm and well-placed wah wah-ed keyboard lines giving the track an easy-going flow.

Indeed, Hot Chip not only displays creative rhythmic/mixing ability, but also reflects their own music fan disposition --careful listeners who craft songs as emulations not willing to stray far off course from their wide net of influences. “Keep Fallin” has male vocals following a Stevie Wonder like vocal trail, while “Shining Escalade” stays true to the more traditional electronica track -- a variety of ticks and beats interspersed with computer generated bloops and high pitched noises a la dial up modem. R & B is there, as on “One One One,” with the guitar line and cooing male vocals lending a late R & B 70s vibe to the track.

The strength of the record, though, is not some extraordinary integration of genre-bending grooves -- Coming on Strong is neither extraordinary nor brilliant. Rather, its appeal is in its own modesty and self-effacing style, packaged in the better-than-you cool groove that the band has culled from musical influences close to their heart.

As Hot Chip proves, it is possible to wear one’s musical first loves on one’s sleeve in a way that invites listeners to the party rather than tuning them out with regurgitated noise. If you’re looking for loving adoration of groove, then, Coming on Strong is a thoroughly likeable record, with just enough cool, electronica underpinning, and nerdiness to make everyone feel at ease. - Christine Back

Hot Chip

christine.jpg

Ms. Back lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn with three guitars, a 1950s Mason & Hamlin piano, and a beagle. When not studying legal doctrine and social justice law, she fronts the indie-rock band Que Verde and dabbles in art, film, and writing projects.

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