Hot Chip know what they’re doing. If there’s anything I’ve learned from immersing myself in the DFA world in the last week or so, it’s that everyone James Murphy has chosen to work with over the years is bound by a similar ability to come off like some completely regular cat while actually being absurdly talented. Hot Chip, perhaps the most unassuming guys in the game, with a singer who looks like Maxwell Smart on a Buddy Holly trip and another dude who not only looks like a bear but is, in fact, in a band called The 2 Bears, have always kicked ass without doing anything spectacular other than honing their craft. This penchant to blend seamlessly into the fabric they’re weaving has seen them transform from indie-electro punks who made jocks scream ‘Over and over and over and over and over/Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal’ into synth-pop balladeers of the highest order, and now, without anybody even realising it, serious contenders for Album Of The Year. In June. In Our Heads, the fifth effort record from these guys (my god, I’m getting old) is so ridiculously well done that I’ve been hounding their label Domino for three weeks to let me premiere on of these songs early. I’ve told everyone in earshot, including those who didn’t even ask, about how great I think it is. Of course, I didn’t get the rights, because the album is out today. But so are new ones from Usher, The Hives and Jonathan Boulet. So there is a chance that you might miss this. And I will certainly not allow that to happen.
‘Motion Sickness’ is the opener to end all openers. It’s a multi-layered, all-hands-on-deck monster that starts out like techno and finishes up like Genesis. The best thing about it is that it’s got about three different songs pounded together and flattened out into just over five minutes, and you wouldn’t even realise until you’ve played it a few times. Opening with this amazing phased keyboard line which floats in and out of the monitors above warm synth pads, the progression suddenly takes a nosedive as the sonic boom of floor toms reconfigured by two drummers and no less than five tech nerds ushers in the main theme. Of course, there’s agogogo bells hanging around in the wings with the heavenly choir for fun. If there’s one thing Hot Chip are great at (jokes; there’s about a million things) it’s layering. Often they mix elements in so subtly that it takes a while to appreciate how much goes into every section. The fact that even though they’ve got a fleet of baritone saxophones playing the bass line, they’ve doubled it with actual bass to round out the tone. Or that Alexis Taylor has double-tracked his vocals just for the hell of it, bringing in a troupe of fake strings and shiny silver trumpets to add even more punch to this thing. Despite it’s completely amazing, bitching riff, ‘Motion Sickness’ is an air-punching good time. It’s a studied exercise in taking malevolent sound sources and flipping them into something worthy of an ad for the Olympics.
While there’s no denying that Hot Chip are now cool, they combine some of the riskiest elements in pop and dance music that would leave any other producers with their heads in the proverbial toilet. Alexis seems to be permanently stuck in Lounge Suit vocal mode, even though he’s actually working hard. They use steel drums in almost everything. They often forget choruses for the sake of grooves. Many of these things not only define the band’s uniqueness, but also make them thoroughly more listenable in many more contexts than their rivals. You don’t need to be at a party to listen to Hot Chip. You don’t have to be a bro to listen to Hot Chip. They have somehow managed the tricky feat of staying musical while bridging cultural gaps. It helps that they all have interests outside their own band and take time to let those breathe, but that’s not all it is. Listening to ‘Motion Sickness’, and harmonious intertwining of elements that shouldn’t work but do, you get the real understanding of what sonic accomplishment actually means. And as extra keyboard parts plonk in and out and Taylor repeats his additive-rhythm mantra ‘Everything spins, everything spins on my head’, the track breaks down to the core principles of a tightly wound guitar lead and a booming drum line. Suddenly a precision-based dance tune has become a rock tune, and before you know it, it’s lurching back again. This is one track. There’s an album full of stuff just like this, if not better.
You know what to do.
Hot Chip – ‘Motion Sickness’