“Hot Chip will break your legs, snap off your head”, so went the title track off the namesake’s second album ‘The Warning‘. As xylophones coiled around a skittish drum beat, Joe Goddard’s near-monotonous statement was indeed a warning, just a doubtful one. It has been over thirteen years since Hot Chip established themselves with that record and that warning; needless to say the message proved somewhat unsubstantial. In those years, bar a smattering of air-punching ragers, Hot Chip have carved out a driven, rewarding career laced with bold pop songs unafraid to sound corny to demonstrate their truth.
2015’s ‘Why Make Sense?’ was Hot Chip’s slickest album to date. The sound was tight, focused and – all things considered – rather serious. The trademark quirks were few (even ‘White Wine and Fried Chicken’ is a subdued entry in their catalogue). The London group have built a legacy on the foundation that no two albums of theirs are quite the same, although each album is quintessential Hot Chip. With ‘Why Make Sense?’, the biggest quirk appeared to be that there wasn’t one. Since that record, the group have quietened down. Alexis Taylor, the ever-gentle vocalist, released a solo piano album. Synth overlord Joe Goddard released his second album, with a heavy emphasis on ambience. As for Al Doyle, the guitarist re-joined LCD Soundsystem as they toured the world. These three projects draw evident parallels with Hot Chip’s seventh and latest effort, ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’.
On their 2012 shimmery pop gem ‘Don’t Deny Your Heart‘, Hot Chip mused: “We take fun seriously“. There is no further proof needed than ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’, an album where reticence is instrumental, that Hot Chip have found solace. There are nine songs altogether, making it their shortest album so far in terms of number of songs. The nine songs comprise forty-seven minutes, however, allowing each song to burn as long as it needs to.
Hot Chip has never been one to cut the fat. This is a band that, instead of wrapping the floor-filling anthem ‘Jelly Babies‘ up at the three-minute mark where it wanted to end, chucked some free jazz in for two minutes. In doing so, they make the listener feel like a fool for thinking otherwise. Free jazz may be off the table on ‘A Bath’, but the longer run-time presents each song the chance to loosen up. And with the added guidance of external producers for the first time, the results are impressive, even for Hot Chip standards.
‘Melody of Love’ opens the album with a clear motive: expansion. The four-minute track comes in stages. At first it is remotely intimate; “Have you left space for me in this life?“, Alexis Taylor softly ponders over some rather weighted chords. His spotlight gradually unfolds, with various synths climbing atop one another. “All you need is here“, Taylor affirms early on. His voice is still the same innocent, cheeky but reliable voice that got away with chanting “S-E-X-I-N-G” some thirteen years ago. Only this time his objectives appear to be slightly more refined. It takes ninety seconds but as the drums enter the frame, the song finally gets moving. It is less of an explosion into life, more a sonic blossom.
On ‘Why Make Sense?’, Hot Chip opened the record with the fantastic ‘Huarache Lights’. There are several parallels with ‘Melody of Love’ to be found; the preachy samples (“Time will bring peace, time will bring love“); the robotic bellows; the ambitious run-time for an opener. The only difference being ‘Huarache Lights’ does comparatively do a far better job at enticing you in. Maybe its the lack of punch, or the joy-sapping lyrics (“I always seem to hesitate, too little always comes to late“), either way Hot Chip are conflicted. Nonetheless it is a stellar track, with some lush harmonies and the drop is worth the slow build. You just cannot help but believe that if this is the melody of love, then love must be a little stale.
If their last album approached love from the viewpoint of longing for its satisfaction, then ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ suggests Hot Chip are narrowing in on it. On ‘Positive’, Joe Goddard proudly declares: “We get together sometimes“, over a soaring thump. It is a near-six-minute tune, one that sticks with you. With a chorus as catchy as this, Hot Chip prove their songwriting credentials have not slumped. There is a strong determination for belonging on ‘Positive’. The song pounds with club energy, yearning for communal party. Yet the lyrics beg to differ. “You’re washed up, and you’re hated… you’re despised, contaminated“, Alexis Taylor nonchalantly sings, presumably at his lover. Distancing his lover from the rest of the world, it is clear he is the escape his lover needs.
The offer of escape is the vein of ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ – hell, even the title gives it away. If that did not convince you, look no further than the near-title track, ‘Bath Full of Ecstasy’. Ethereal, lucid and utterly magical, it is Hot Chip at their most visionary. Alexis Taylor’s voice is altered to sound more like Owl City than the simple dulcet vocal we are familiar with. This vocoder effect funnels through one of the strongest choruses on the album. “I’ve got the cure, the pure remedy…”, Taylor states, “…I know I can make you see the colours that I see.” It is an inviting offer; his voice is alien, the bleeps are otherworldly – the song’s world is too tempting to resist.
‘Clear Blue Skies’ is as dreamy as it suggests. The seven minutes allow a picture to cast over; the shuffling drums and sincere synths lull in the background as Goddard and Taylor craft harmonies with considerate ease. It is by no means a memorable song – the lyrics are fairly hard to pick out – but in the context of the back-end of the album, it is delightful.
Album closer ‘No God’ is no different; signature synth bloops rain down as Taylor softly croons. “No dream, no sign can make me feel the way you make me feel“, Alexis Taylor confesses. It is at this point, thirty seconds in, the song brings home the record. The track tightly packs Hot Chip-isms (infectious chants, chords galore, synthy goodness) in one while expanding on the celestial soundscapes. The song’s full realisation resembles something like a more wholesome ‘Screamadelica’. It is a deserved send-off for an album keen to play around with the concept of spiritual journeys.
This might be as accessible as Hot Chip will ever be. There are some fantastic pop moments; most notably on ‘Echo’ and the booming ‘Spell’ – two tracks turned down by Katy Perry. The silliness is dialled down heavily, making space to allow the listener to enjoy a Hot Chip album for the musicianship more than ever.
The London outfit have always sounded like a band that has fun. Their wit and charm is very much present on ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’, especially the latter – it just isn’t thrown around. In a recent interview, Alexis Taylor confirmed he has never taken ecstasy. This record is not one of drug-infused nights, rather the powerful escape love can provide. These nine songs are not as rowdy as ‘Over and Over’ or self-critical as ‘Boy From School’, but they do try, and they really do belong. Will Hot Chip snap off your head? Maybe, but you will be in such an alleviated state, you would not mind one bit.
‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ by Hot Chip is out on Friday 21st June via Domino