I never did take a music composition course at University, but I always imagine if I had, I'd be surrounded by two types of wannabe geniuses in-the-making. First, you have your bold and daring adventurer who isn't afraid to get stuck into ringing every fret of his custom-made Yamaha like some recently escaped asylum patient. And then you have your lesser-extroverted individual; the boggling shy and somewhat goofy-looking head-boffin who plays with keyboards and synths as if it were a child's toy he has reluctantly come back to, and memorized so extensively. Hot Chip - England's answer to a part-geeky part-bold electropop outfit - strike me as a band that know how they come across on first inspection, but in quite spectacular fashion, are able to take this masquerade of brainiac-level bumbling and turn it into performances of a sound that is one of both immediate catchiness and outright wide-grin enjoyment. Over the years, the band - along with their stack of keyboards, synths and dance moves you'd show off at your first school disco, with embarrassing consequence - have evolved their sound into something of a hypnotic yet straight-talking array of disco-glittery party-pumping electronics. 2010's 'One Life Stand' continued this, but instead demonstrated with remarkable effect the band's more somber and romanticist scripting of story-telling and reflective commentary, while still maintaining the dorky lovable nature of their presentation in equal measure. 2012 sees the band present to us what some would consider the pinnacle of this evolution of danceable pop music with 'In Our Heads', an album that is as honest and as hard-to-let-go as its title suggests.
'Motion Sickness', the album's first track opens up with what is initially a tiny clatter of drums that soon opens up into this bold and conspicuous showering of brass and quirky synths. Alexis Taylor (the lead vocalist) soon rummages himself into the mix with his signature soft ethereal flutter of vocals: 'Remember when people thought the World was round...everything spins on my head'. There's an immediate hook in both the lyricism and the melody - this oceanic waviness of synthesizers and drums only adds to the glittery visuals that comes out from this track. For a five-minute opener, it's a well-sought-for venture of electronics and vocals alike. 'How Do You Do' the follower continues this same approach with a more upbeat tempo, but the vocals here are less stargazed and eerie. Instead, Taylor's modest honesty and definitive charm comes across really well, Joe Goddard (secondary vocalist, whose tone creates a much personal and intimate warmth in contrast to Taylor's centre-stage bare-bone tensity) providing some fittingly matched murmuring harmony in the backing. But it's the music itself here that steals the show - coming and going in sparks and flutters of bouncy synths and drum patterns alike.
There's a clear sense of optimism and straight-out dare in this record's sound. Not that 'One Life Stand' was anything but charming in the way the band sought a more passionate and emotive direction in their cheery electro sound, but as you listen through this album's 11-track outfit, it's hard to find no less than a immediate desire to express in vast, bold portions in relation to the way the electronics pass and transgress from each bubbly key tap to the next. From the song's opening build, you'd think 'Look At Where We Are' is a return to the previous album's more somber, inter-connective refectory story-telling - the melancholic guitar strumming above a fog of ambient-esque composite making way to Taylor's more withdrawn desperation of lyrics, 'From a deep silence of my mind/There's something I'm trying to find.' But the romanticism in Taylor's song-writing doesn't quite lean into you-and-I territory on the larger front; the music keeping to this partly somber, partly cautious cloud of ambient-string-drums progression. But above all, it's Taylor's voice and the high-low pitching applied between sections that gives the track that familiar strangeness and it's a touching effect that keeps the song from becoming deluded to the point it comes across as cheesy.
For anyone looking, or afraid rather that the band had ridden their old sound of ballsy upfront disco electronics, 'Night And Day' no doubt will come across a saving grace and one hell of a catchy grace at that. Taylor's vocals return to their calm, collective head-bobbing progression as previous, and the music itself fully immerses itself in disco's body-moving multi-coloured foray of rhythm. The wobbly bubbling of bass and clutter of drums leads into chanted choruses of architecture-scale synthesizers and robotic-esque nonsense that does nothing but drags the music into a frenzy of buzzing electronics. It's good to see that in a band who have come so far - and surprisingly been able to maintain a sound that, in some cases, may have been seen as too stale or unoriginal to withstand the changing trends in music culture - that they aren't afraid to return to more nostalgic avenues for both inspiration and experimentation in how they move their tracks from just simple keys on an instrument to something that feels much more fantastical and monumental in scale. 'Flutes', the seven-minute composite reads like some epic fantasy in how it illustrates and expresses so clearly the magic and the wonder as to what electronic music can generate in regards to feelings and true emotions. Like some transgression of nostalgic ground-breaking late 80's/early 90's best-of, the sound molds and flurries in this fog of carefully-treading beats and aesthetically warm analog sounds, it almost feels like some british Warp records super-group one-off: the tendered analogs in Boards of Canada; the early ambient discoveries of Aphex Twin; the grand-scale drive of progression via Orbital. It all comes together here, yet at the same time, Hot Chip manage to keep their little quirky spin on the moment here, fresh and inviting. And above all, Taylor's vocals are the most shyly honest and glowing they have ever been.
'Let Me Be Him' showcases Goddard's just-as-glowing usage of vocals amid what is a simple teetering of drums and bellowing synths. The appliance of vocals in a non-lyrical manner here, much like previous tracks, showcases the positivity and resulting catchiness that drives the song forward. And even when the electronic components die down in major parts, traditional instrumentation in the shape of pianos don't sound faltered or out of place. What the band create purely out of vocal expression is enough to allow the music itself to fit quite comfortably into a mix of fluttered electronics and flattering organic singing from both Taylor and Goddard alike. And the harmonic unity that these two guys create, in result, brings this off-the-ground surreality into a much tender perspective. There is indeed something quite gracious and gratifying with how the band go about presenting these sounds and while this track in particular later delves into mixing up the tradition of electronic with found sound, it's a mixture that gels really well in the wider aspect of a positive indietronic electro-pop outfit.
Hot Chip have, since their debut, decided against keeping to the boundaries that have been established many a time in the rising - now, dense - huddle of electro groups carrying their music forth through electronic equipment and inorganic effects that boggle the mind. And while their differentiating ideas and equally-differentiating executions may have ran the risk of putting off even the most committed of fans, the result - as it always has been - is one that fails to neither lose respect, or lose the need to get up and move. And where their previous record demonstrated with flying colours how much they can mix things up and still come out trumps, 'In Our Heads' stands as the most complete and confident of the band's output. Regardless of which sound tickles your fancy - the geeky picking of synths, the buzzing electro-disco beats or even the more romantic inter-personal story-telling - Hot Chip have proven they are good...no, great...at what they do. And what they do is, at this present time, unrivaled and without its equal.