Hot Chip inspires dancing, singing
By David Malitz
Friday, July 20, 2012
Hot Chip had a slight problem.
The electro-synth-pop-funk-soul band was about to kick off its latest North American tour last week and the villainous visa issuers -- the scourge of all internationally touring acts -- struck again. The London band had just days to find a replacement for drummer Sarah Jones and get him or her up to speed and ready for the floor.
The timing was unfortunate, ahead of a prime-time slot at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, followed by big gigs at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and one here at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday. Yet, as has happened throughout the band’s decade-plus existence, Hot Chip landed comfortably on its feet. Jim Orso of the New York band Holy Ghost! stepped in, and the band didn’t miss a single, sumptuous beat.
“I looked back from my position stage right to see nothing but people dancing. In all my years going to this event, I’ve never seen that happen,” read Time Out Chicago’s review of Hot Chip’s well-greeted performance at Pitchfork.
That a dance band -- that’s the short version of the multiple-qualifier description given a few paragraphs earlier -- would even need a drummer is part of what makes Hot Chip unique. Dance music over the past couple of years has become synonymous with stylish DJs leading fist-pumping madness while standing stage-center in front of a computer. Hot Chip is the complete opposite: a large group of decidedly non-stylish people standing calmly in front of actual instruments (including a small music store’s inventory worth of synthesizers) and letting the music inspire the movement.
“The thing about our band is that there are a lot of people who can play instruments and it doesn’t rely on complicated technology as the main ingredient,” singer/guitarist/songwriter Alexis Taylor says. “There’s having a drummer, there’s having myself and [Al Doyle] playing guitars, live bass guitar, lots of percussion. Lots of quite traditional elements are there.”
It’s not just traditional instruments but also composition that creates the core of Hot Chip’s sound. The band’s discography provides a perfect lesson in how to combine modern sounds with classic songwriting. “Motion Sickness,” the lead track from the band’s new album, “In Our Heads,” is the latest in a long string of irresistible songs, one that can pack a dance floor and have those people singing along at the same time. It neatly weaves together a soulful vocal melody, a sticky chorus, pulsing beats and cascading keyboards, and it’s a balancing act Taylor and co-frontman Joe Goddard have been able to gracefully navigate over five albums.
It’s hard to go wrong when digging into the band’s catalogue. “The Warning,” from 2006, was Hot Chip’s breakout, featuring monster singles such as “Over and Over” and “And I Was a Boy from School.” Next came the electro-pop precision of “Made in the Dark” in 2008, followed by the suave and soulful “One Life Stand” in 2010, each album expanding the band’s sonic palette and repertoire a bit more.
“I think we’re not too concerned about what we’ve done before, how to stick to something. Maybe we’ve lost fans along the way who only wanted it to sound like ‘Over and Over,’ but we can’t really think about that,” Taylor says.
The care with which Hot Chip crafts its songs includes lyrics, one area that is largely ignored by dance-oriented acts. Taylor remarks that he is “surprised that people are surprised” when there are meaningful words on top of buoyant beats.
“I think it just goes without saying that music should try to have resonance with people, and that’s what I want it to be,” he says. “I want our music to be the best it can be, so it wouldn’t have the lyrics as secondary. There just wouldn’t be a point to that.”
Inspiring live shows, a near-perfect run of five albums, detailed songs with personal touches. Even with the occasional missing drummer, Hot Chip still has the complete package.