Hot Chip - One Life Stand
Record Label: Astralwerks
Release Date: February 9, 2010
Electronic music seems to go almost hand in hand with a tilt toward instant gratification, both musically and topically. Acts who employ synths and beats seem perpetually inclined to resort to immediate danceworthy hooks and lyrics about getting freaky, on the dancefloor and, well, you get the idea. And I'm not going to sit here and diminish that music in any way. It sells, and its appeal is obvious. Still, it's always nice to have bands like Hot Chip around to show off how much depth and range this style can have. Over the course of three full-lengths, they have established a reputation for creating cerebral, left-of-center electropop, and with their newest album One Life Stand, they once again one-up themselves, releasing their most stimulating and diverse set of songs yet.
The hip-shaking rave-up "Thieves in the Night" gets things started with an uptempo bang, which is something we're going to find less of as the album progresses. Its crucial lyric, "happiness is what we all want," may seem to be stating the blatantly obvious, but it turns out to be a neat summary of One Life Stand as an album. What's most provocative is what exactly amounts to happiness for the band. "I've known for a long time, you are my love line," Alexis Taylor sings on "Hand Me Down Your Love", indicative of a desire for the type of well-being that's enduring rather than temporary pleasures. Their synths are still present, but the song is primarily piano-driven and accented with strings. Even on a groovier dancefloor pleaser like "I Feel Better", the lyrics hardly coincide with club culture: "I only want one love, together in our arms." And again, on the beat-heavy title track, Taylor imparts his own twist on the obvious cliche.
Taylor and Joe Goddard share vocals on "Brothers", offering their take on another type of lasting love: fraternal, familial. It's sparse and plodding, setting up the even more methodical "Slush", whose sweeping piano melody lies somewhere on the spectrum between '50s prom-pop and Belle and Sebastian. It almost makes you wonder aloud, "this is the same band that recorded 'Bendable Posable' two years ago?" "Alley Cats" sort of splits the difference between Hot Chip's multiple personalities, with a midtempo groove that features piano, some guitar, understated synths, and the vocal tag-team of Goddard's dry ennui and Taylor's warm expressiveness. If they ever tire of bumping club jams and heartfelt ballads, they undeniably have a solid backup career in bright mid-tempo fare like this.
Over that three-song sequence, it almost seems like Hot Chip abandoned their dance sensibilities, but they bring it back with "We Have Love", a song that's a bit "Boy From School"-like in its combination of quick beats and lilting melody, but it lacks the same single appeal. However, on "Keep Quiet", they revert back to the more sparse approach, and it's tense in its whisper-soft minimalism. While they're both "growers" in their own way, those two tracks compose something of a weak spot, if one exists, on One Life Stand. Luckily, "Take It In", with its gleeful discofied melody, closes things out on a strong, light note.
I can conceive One Life Stand turning off a certain segment of the music-listening populace. Songs that come out so strongly in favor of commitment, monogamy, stability and family aren't particularly cool. Still, even as an eternally single guy who's pretty happy being such, I can appreciate and admire the album for both the musical statement it makes as well as for the assuredness it must have taken to create. Working within their style, it takes a boatload of confidence to make a record that's so not cocky, and a huge set of balls to make a record so neutered. Hot Chip have clearly grown comfortable in their own skin, not only enough to take some chances on the lyrical front, but enough to experiment with their sound, and ultimately release one of the most fascinatingly varied albums, electronic or otherwise, I've heard lately. Their ventures paid off supremely, as One Life Stand is an enjoyable and captivating listen on every level.