Critical Voices: Hot Chip, One Life Stand

February 11, 2010

Hot Chip, a five-piece electronic outfit from London, has put out three middling albums with monster singles tucked neatly away inside each one. Those singles—including 2006’s “Boy From School” and 2008’s “Ready for the Floor”—have made them indie heroes for some listeners, but even Hot Chip’s most diehard fans have been waiting patiently for a consistently good album. One Life Stand, their fourth effort, comes close, but it still suffers from too much filler and the occasional bad idea.

One Life Stand’s best tracks have already been released as singles. The title track, released in November, is icy and slow-building, with anachronistic tropical synths that somehow work even as they clash with the song’s bleak aesthetic. “Take It In” relies on the same detached, cold sound, with a sinister, yet devastatingly catchy, synth riff. But then it shifts suddenly from verse to chorus, letting its manufactured tension melt away as vocalist Alexis Taylor opens his heart. “Oh, my heart has flown to you just like a dove,” he sings. “It can fly, it can fly/And oh, please take my heart and keep it close to you/Take it in, take it in.” It’s the album’s most beautiful moment, and it works great as the closing track.

The only other great track on the album, “I Feel Better,” finds Taylor singing through a vocoder over a pulsing beat and cheesy, emotive orchestral synths. Eventually the track builds to a highly danceable climax, and it works even when the gimmicky vocoder effect gets a little tiresome.

Much of what remains is middling. Opener “Thieves in the Night” has fine melodies, but its lyrics are so throwaway—and its build-up so unsatisfying—that it ultimately falls flat. (popphoto.com) “We Have Love” is appealingly glitchy and rhythmic, but it feels like a missed opportunity—its chorus should have been bigger. “Alley Cats” has beautiful harmonies and a great bass line, but it can’t figure out if it’s a bumper or a ballad.

When Hot Chip decides for sure it wants to write a ballad though, it completely strikes out. “Brothers” shoots for emotional resonance, but comes off as insincere. “Slush” has a lazy swing that kills the album’s momentum near its halfway point. The fact that the two tracks come back-to-back might be enough to make some listeners give up.

Anyone who already digs Hot Chip will enjoy One Life Stand. But without any trademark killer single, it probably won’t win the band any new fans.

Voice’s Choices: “One Life Stand,” “I Feel Better,” “Take It In”

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