Modern Masterworks #1 – Hot Chip “In Our Heads” Review

Relationships are tempestuous. In the space of days, (sometimes hours) the exuberance of a love you thought would last a lifetime, can be destroyed in an instant. Whether it’s your fault or theirs, (at the time it’s always theirs) you’ll end up secretly wishing that your ex-love would go and play ‘tag’ with onrushing traffic. As the days pass and loneliness sets in, you spiral into a self-destructive melancholy, where ‘letting go’ is not an option because deep down you’re still in love. Such emotion turmoil has been the inspiration for music (and soap opera plot lines) for countless years and is a theme spit chronologically along the 11 tracks of Hot Chip’s fifth studio LP, In Our Heads.

Produced by the band themselves, and their first for new label Domino, the album represents something of a creative and financial risk for all involved. So it will come as a relief to hear that In Our Heads, is arguably the best of Hot Chip’s idiosyncratic releases. One which confidently blends the straight pop of their previous record, One Life Stand, with the earlier and more enigmatic, The Warning. The album’s foundation is still built upon the union of Alexis Taylor’s sombre vocals and intimate songwriting with Joe Goddard’s sonic mastery. Although this time round, the duo have moved on from One Life Stand’s, Pet Shop Boys leanings. Choosing to modernise and fuse the ‘80s electro funk of, Freeez, with Paul Hardcastle’s extended mixes, whilst adding just a dash of krautrock for good measure. The result is a modern sophistifunk which at times is so catchy, that any lawsuit filled against the band for causing dance-floor related RSI would be an open and shut case.

Album opener, ‘Motion Sickness,’ gets thing rolling. Activating your senses all at once, with a heady mix of dizzying synths and jerky percussion that replicate the blurred excitement of falling in love. This is ably backed by Taylor’s lyrics, who uses his obsession with music as an emotional yardstick. “Remember when people thought the world was round? / Everything spins, everything spins on my head,” before confirming his new found love with, “Remember when we both first found, the world of sound?” It’s a neat parallel to draw and one which is repeated throughout the album, adding an emotional honesty that would otherwise be missing.

Taylor’s infatuated crooning continues across the first third of the LP, until he reaches his most overt declaration of love with, ‘These Chains.’ Where over a flurry of low register keys, twitchy beats and quirky vocal samples he discloses, “My love is kind to you / my love is blind for you.” Before building towards the records catchiest chorus, “These chains, you’ve bound around my heart / Complete me, baby, I would not be free.” It’s Hot Chip at their pop peak and a single to rival the chart climbing powers of ‘Ready for the Floor’ and ‘Over and Over.’

The funky ‘Night and Day’ comes next, and serves as the albums emotional fulcrum. Fidgeting with tension whilst sounding angular, warped and confrontational. Allowing to Taylor to seamlessly move from assurance, “The way I feel about you baby, in the middle of the night / There’s just one thing I can do, to make you feel all right” to repeated appeasement “You’ve got me working night and day.” Until finally succumbing to his frustration about assumptions made against his character, “Do I look like a rapper?” From this moment on Taylor’s clarity of feeling dissipates and Goddard’s production allows uncertainty to reign.

This is exemplified on the albums next and best track, ‘Flutes.’ Where a fog of densely layered vocals, jumpy samples all fight for headspace like neurotic half thoughts. As Taylor endlessly travels down a rabbit hole of thought; muttering mantra’s like “Never Again” or worrying if this relationship is doomed to constantly repeat itself, “ And blow up all our love in refrain.” Until defiantly he apportions blame elsewhere “One day you might realise / That you might need to open your eyes.”

This three song gambit is both the highlight and a microcosm of the album. A point where Taylor and Goddard’s distinct musical voices come together in a perfect storm of creative schizophrenia. Delivering an emotionally complex yet accessible slice of Electro pop that draws on their passion for music to qualify, explain and understand their feelings towards lovers. This provides the album with a satisfying layer of subtext that makes you question if the songs are literal or figurative. It’s this cleverness that has always set Hot Chip apart, and makes In Our Heads the most compelling album of the year so far.