Hot Chip

Coming On Strong

(Astralwerks; 2005)

By Craig Eley | 17 August 2007

I’ve never met Hot Chip, but I picture them as the two guys who ruin your party. You know the type -- they come in all unassuming, friends-of-friends (the DFA, in this case), and begin to drink your beer, hit on your girl, and then, when things can’t get any worse, they take control of the party iPod. You nervously sip your drink and wait. At first you are willing to forgive all transgressions; their carefully placed Prince and Daft Punk get the party going, and their ability to find your faux-gangsta anthems alarms and delights you (“I thought I deleted Dynamite Hack…”). But soon things go south. These guys know too much. Next thing you know, the dance floor is empty and they are high-fiving over deep album tracks from Yo La Tengo and Devo. All your friends have left, and you are out of beer. Stevie Wonder sings you to sleep.

This is essentially the recipe for Coming on Strong: booze, dance, white-boy rap, sleepiness, and a list of influences that spans your favorite records of the last three decades and your favorite hip-hop singles of the last three months. With geek swagger and a backdrop of slow beats and Casiotones, the Chips take their time deadpanning lines about fame, love, Skittles, and SUVs. More than slow the album feels deliberate, and since it clocks in at over an hour, at least you get your money’s worth. The pace may surprise people whose heads have been turning and hips shaking over their new track “Over and Over,” but this album is much more indicative of the “Joy In Repetition” godfather than LCD Soundsystem.

This album has big balls but also a big heart, and it doesn’t impress as much as seduce. There is no way to say if this whole thing is one tongue-in-cheek exercise or not, but there are moments on this record that are absolutely moving. “Crap Kraft Dinner,” which is amazingly not titled “Krap Kraft Dinner,” is sung beautifully and ends with two minutes of ethereal synth and fucking saxophones, and at multiple listens I am still sad when it flutters to a close at 6:34.

Hot Chip are acutely aware of their status as an “electronic” band -- check the name and album art -- and their music tackles the inherent problems in such a descriptor. Feelings of isolation and loss in our hyperelectronic daily lives are part of what draw us to music in the first place, but, paradoxically, our escape is Hot Chip’s crushing grind of computers, math, and sound. The album has a recurring theme of sensory loss and reclusion, from “Keep Fallin’” (“Do you ever wonder / How the hell does Stevie Wonder see things?”) to “Crap Kraft Dinner” (“All the people I love can’t hear”) to “Shining Escalade” (“We build the fences / Now we can escape”). By being both all-influence and something new (ebony & irony?), Hot Chip happily toe a host of binaries -- honest/superficial, organic/electronic, serious/fun -- and in the process question the absurdity of such lines. Just don’t put it on at your next party: even if these guys were born on booze-soaked dance floors, their chops strive for something much deeper than that.