February 14, 2008

Sexy and Sad

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Maybe — just maybe — the title of Hot Chip’s latest album, Made in the Dark (Astralwerks/DFA) is meant to reflect their recording process, given that a good deal of the album sounds disorganized and inconsistent, similar to if it were recorded and mixed in the dark.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe the phrase “made in the dark” simply refers to the title track, a down-tempo old soul (falling out of) love ballad. A simple ¾ drumbeat begins the song, after which a bluesy piano and mournful guitar riff fill the silence. Then Alexis Taylor begins his heartbroken plaint: “Since we fell apart, I’ve been nothing but blue/ Longing for a nighttime to bring back my you/ Every night in motion, together apart.” Oh—I get it now. “Made in the Dark” was describing sex all the time!
But does this sexy motif hold through the rest of the album? The short answer is: sort of. A more accurate answer is: Hot Chip tries, but they’re too scattered (and melancholy) to make this album a smooth, effective sexy. To give an illustrative metaphor, Made in the Dark is the sonic equivalent to a puberty-plagued tween: totally! excited! about his/her developing body but still too unsure how properly to use it. Another clunky metaphor (I’m fond of these): Made in the Dark is the awkwardly intense yet endearing dancer on the floor at whom you outwardly simper but internally respect for dancing his heart out, no matter how poorly.
If metaphors aren’t your thing (and I understand if they’re not), I’ll break it down: Made in the Dark is an earnest effort but comes up disappointingly short in some places. After the success of 2006’s The Warning, Hot Chip sounds like they’re scrambling to impress their audience with too much in-studio knob tuning and overly sophisticated beats.
Indeed, Hot Chip bowls us over with weird sound effects and forever-shifting rhythm patterns—two things that work only sometimes. Other times, like in the ironic, reverse psychological “Don’t Dance” and the spastic, funhouse carnival ride “Bendable Poseable,” said effects are not-even-kitschy-or-cheeky-just-plain-uncool-weird.
That said though, “the sexy” works for a great majority of the album. Hot Chip’s surprising attempt at a slower sound harkens to their first full-length, Coming on Strong, but sounds much more polished (and more R&B inspired) this time around. See the track “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love” for an excellent example of this development. A syncopated handclap pattern bolsters the song as the rhythm pattern morphs and changes, finally settling on a Latin-esque reggaeton beat. Even in Hot Chip’s supposed misery, they still know how to lay it down. Bump this track and then get your slow jam slow-dance on.
So, I guess another clunky simile to describe Made in the Dark is that it sounds a lot like falling in love: the first half of the record is ebullient, manic and excited (albeit a little freaked out). Then “things just don’t work out,” at which point the second half sounds downtrodden, a little elegiac and a lot tentative about the album’s direction and purpose.
But don’t mind the break-up! Spin this record, boogie your booty flat for the first bit, and then find that special someone to cuddle with during the second once your hammies and quads become all danced out. Happy Valentine’s Day, Hot Chip fans.