Hot Chip

In Our Heads

(Domino; 2012)

By Andrew Hall | 4 July 2012

For much of their career, Hot Chip has felt like a study in contradictions. As far back as 2004’s Coming on Strong, singers and core members Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard seemed like two bedroom weirdos making off-kilter pop music, wavering between uptempo numbers and ballads on whatever recording equipment was available to them at the time, dealing in a playful melancholy and sounding vaguely ironic more than anything else. Yet their transition across five records into a forward-thinking five-piece bowling over festival audiences, rather than a couple of dudes merely playing at it, has been undeniable. Though their songs have never ceased in places to be relentlessly silly, the strengths of their productions grew considerably on 2006’s The Warning, the duo made huge leaps as songwriters on the sprawling Made in the Dark (2008), and then used the core of One Life Stand (2010) to weave Robert Wyatt homages and unexpected meditations on interpersonal relationships into their songs.

In Our Heads, their first record since leaving DFA for Domino, is their most legitimate bid across all categories and quite possibly their best record to date. At its best moments it feels remarkably unified—a whole where house homages, joke lyrics, and vocal leads not that far removed from Phil Collins songs all make sense together in thrilling and unexpected ways. The key to this, more than anything, is in the singing: for the first time ever, Taylor’s fey, often high tenor and Goddard’s baritone make sense together, with their parts often bolstering one another’s in a way they almost never did before. Take, for instance, the way Goddard fills in space between Taylor’s lines in the verses of “How Do You Do,” or the autotune-slathered harmonies in “These Chains”‘s chorus. Even the go-to of many an Ableton user, the basic pitch adjust, sounds great when turned into a hook at the end of the chorus of “Look at Where We Are,” another Taylor-sung slow number that grooves gorgeously into infinity.

Despite the facts that they now have at least some real equipment and their sonics benefit immensely from Leo Taylor’s live drums, Hot Chip are still very much computer musicians, albeit ones that understand how to make their production choices seem more vital than gimmicky. Early single “Flutes” sports a chopped up vocal sample at its center but never lets the loop drag, keeping its surroundings in constant motion across its seven-minute runtime.

There’s also “Let Me Be Him,” the album’s penultimate track and quite possibly the best song the band has released to date, a synthesis of everything they do well in a little under eight minutes. An understated verse builds to a chorus so absurd in its vocal delivery that it seems like it has to be lifted from something far more ridiculous, and Taylor delivers what seems like a manifesto celebration the very act of collaboration, be it musical or otherwise: “Lend me your ideas, but not too fully formed.” From there, the group piles on instruments, riding that vocal lead to a smeared, borderline Balearic finish over two minutes of outro that breeze by inexplicably fast. For anyone it would be a triumph, but here it serves as a total realization of virtually all potential Hot Chip has ever shown.

With “Always Been Your Love,” which features Lizzi Bougatsos of Gang Gang Dance in a last-minute and remarkably pop oriented turn, the band makes clear that In Our Heads is a singer’s record. Taylor and Goddard’s pop impulses and the dance music they’ve always been exploring have finally cohered, yielding a collection of songs with the potential to be as efficient on a dance floor as it is in a bedroom. And if it hasn’t already, it will totally bowl over festival crowds.