On first listen, it’s easy to think that the title of Hot Chip’s follow-up to the highly successful album The Warning, Made in the Dark (Astralwerks), is referring to the tonal shift their music has taken. Opening tracks “Out at the Pictures” and “Shake a Fist” definitely take a darker approach than the songs on the previous album, with “Shake a Fist” even sounding sinister, combined with a tribal beat that seems borrowed from The White Stripes. The later tracks of the album, however, don’t all employ this darker tone, but what they do share with the initial tracks is a lack of predictability, as though listeners are the ones who will be “made [to be] in the dark.”
Nearly every song on the album seems to begin in one direction, then take a completely different one, and in most cases it is infinitely preferable. For music lovers who think they can go into a store and browse tracks to determine the value of a new purchase, these songs are your kryptonite. “Ready for the Floor” and “One Pure Thought,” are songs that take a good deal of time to get to their meat, though the latter song is by far the starker contrast from beginning to end. The beginning is more traditional and guitar-driven, until nearly a minute in they bring a festive, Caribbean beat, as if the wish for “one pure thought” at the beginning has suddenly been granted. It’s catchy and fun to get into, but more importantly it doesn’t leave the earlier section behind. The song comes full circle, and the first section, which I didn’t particularly appreciate at first, seems to fit in well. It’s a process of discovery within a song, which elevates it beyond some catchy background music.
Beyond the pop sensibilities of many of the songs, it’s great to see a lot of the influences at play and meshing within a collection of songs. Rather than tailoring one sound to a variety of subject matter, the band seems to channel different sounds as they require them. The faster songs sound a bit like Devo, particularly “Out at the Pictures,” but mainly like Depeche Mode, maybe around the time they started moving from their early stuff to getting off of heroin. Still other songs, like the title track, “Whistle for Will,” and “In the Privacy of our Love,” have a true folk sound, to the point that I thought my music was on shuffle and had moved onto one of Wilco’s albums.
There really are a ton of standout songs on the album, but special consideration should be given to “Out at the Pictures” and “Hold On” for being fully recorded live with the entire band, and in one take. Even without this accomplishment, “Hold On” stands out as a catchy song with an amazing chorus that’s playful like Doo-wop. Honorable mention should go to “Wrestlers,” which combines some ludicrous lyrics about wrestling moves with handclaps and a melodic piano that is reminiscent of that ridiculously long song by Primitive Radio Gods.
When it comes down to it, a case can be made for most of the songs, with the exception of perhaps “In the Privacy of our Love” and “Shake a Fist.” “In the Privacy of our Love,” for one thing, is way too long and unwieldy a title, and those are the first lines of the song, which comes across as a sort of ballad, a little too long and not interesting enough to anchor an album that packed a few more surprises earlier on. “Shake a Fist,” on the other hand, which made an initial showing earlier in the year, is the victim of a little too much of the twists and changes that make the other songs work. A pretty addictive beat is immediately cut off for a spoken section, followed by futuristic sounds that just feel jarring, and only eventually make their way back to the beginning. It’s about as difficult to take as a skip in the song, as you’re afraid to get too entranced, lest it gets taken out from under you. Overall, a pretty solid effort from Hot Chip, though the only cohesion on the album seems to come from the surprising directions it shifts to from track to track. - Eric Silver