One Life Stand
By David M. Goldstein | 13 February 2010
Neither Wikipedia nor the OED has a precise definition of what constitutes a “poindexter,” but to once again bring to mind Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous riff on obscenity, I know one when I see one. A sub-genre of nerd vaguely marked by glasses, intelligence, and, above all else, slightness, poindexter status, in terms of musicians, manifests readily in Norwegians, like Kings of Convenience’s Erlend Øye. Enter Hot Chip co-frontman Alexis Taylor, an unabashed wimp who plays alongside equally dorky, but comparably gruff, co-vocalist Joe Goddard (to continue our line of regional thought: Goddard is the Senior to Taylor’s Junior); Alexis Taylor is most obviously a poindexter. And these two guys are in a band that’s made a career out of lightly percolating space-pop whussily emphasizing “love” over “making love”; I know an anti-R. Kelly when I see one.
Despite how mostly and universally despised R. Kelly can be amongst the CMG staff, Hot Chip is an extremely divisive topic here at headquarters. Clay and Chris Molnar have derided them on several occasions as “fake fun”; Mark Abraham once used these pages to completely eviscerate the band’s last record (more on that in a bit). But then there’s Calum, who recently stated that hating the band responsible for “And I Was a Boy From School” just ain’t right—it’s not one of the most beloved dance singles of the past five years for nothing (Grizzly Bear just covered it for chrissakes). “Boy From School” is a shining example of what Hot Chip are generally good at: subtle but monstrously infectious disco-tinged dance music courtesy of nerdlingers with hearts painted clearly on their sleeves. A 21st century update on Low-Life (1985)-era New Order is a solid reference point, mercifully minus the indignities of Bernard Sumner’s rhyming dictionary.
For the follow-up to the The Warning, their 2006 breakthrough, Hot Chip bought into the hype and spent an inordinate amount of time on Made in the Dark (2008), vainly attempting to tear up the club with bombastic, faux-Timbolake electro tracks. This was coupled with a newfound air of superiority that belied their underdog (i.e. poindexter) status and allowed pathetic jokes like that hil-fucking-arious Todd Rundgren sample in “Shake a Fist.” Going steroidal was not a good look for these guys, something they may have come to realize given how few of Made in the Dark’s songs have appeared on recent setlists.
In turn, their fourth album, One Life Stand, plays far more to their strengths as hopeful, romantic songwriters than its predecessor, managing to recapture much of the band’s squandered goodwill. It lacks a classic single almost as obviously as The Warning was beside itself with classic single possibilities, but it’s not nearly as heavy-handed as Dark and positions Taylor and Goddard squarely in the love-centric environment in which they first made their name, standing out from similar ilk if only by the might of sheer sincereity. And even by these guys’ standards, the abundance of Hallmark sentiments on One Life Stand is gracious; it’s so single-mindedly focused on relationships that it’s practically a concept album about the joys of fidelity. Call this an innocent re-introduction; let’s renew some fucking vows!
Alexis Taylor recently became a father and rocks a wedding ring onstage, so maybe this is just me being a mushy newlywed, but I can appreciate that he pledges life-long monogamy on the chorus hook to the title track, and uses “Alley Cats” to detail the comforting aspects of domesticity (wherein a couple is practically completing one another’s sentences: “We wear each others’ heads like hats / Speak in tongues like alley cats”). Taylor’s eternally boyish voice cries, “Happiness is what we all want!” during the four on the floor chug of sprightly opener “Thieves in the Night,” and the sentiment calls to mind a recent message board conversation with other CMG newlywed Chet Betz in which we could both agree: “You know what I like? Being married.” Then there’s also the amusing male-bonding epic “Brothers,” a gradually building Joe Goddard showcase in which he details, among other things, the dependable love to be found in “playing X-Box with my brothers.” Rock!
None of this would matter if Hot Chip reverted to the bludgeoning tactics they employed on Made in the Dark, but One Life Stand is a much more intimate, headphone-appropriate listen; favoring five-minute tracks with patiently revealing hooks, and at only ten songs, their new LP avoids the filler issues that have plagued each of the prior three Hot Chip records. The closest it comes to outright annoying is in the use of Kanye-esque chipmunk vocals at the beginning of “We Have Love,” but Taylor and Goddard’s deft vocal harmonies and a generally lighter touch bail it out. One Life Stand hasn’t brought Hot Chip completely out of the deep hole they dug for themselves one album earlier, and it’s still not as consistent as the inimitable, career-defining The Warning, but it’s unquestionably more “Boy From School” than the histrionics of “Shake a Fist,” and that’s a good enough reason to stay with this band not just for the kids.