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Hot Chip - The Warning

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Artist: Hot Chip

Album: The Warning

Label: DFA

Review date: Jul. 31, 2006

Hot Chip, for anyone unfamiliar with their music, is a group of five guys from London who make home-recorded electronic music inspired by Prince and R. Kelly, among others. That description, I’m sure, might lead one to conclude that Hot Chip’s records are either an all-too self-conscious joke, or a totally sincere train wreck. A quick glance at some of the song titles from their debut album, Coming On Strong, would seem to confirm the idea that it’s a joke. What else could you make of titles like “You Ride, We Ride, In My Ride,” “Shining Escalade,” and “Playboy”? But Coming on Strong, thankfully, was a rather irony-free affair, and instead of being a mish-mash of incompatible influences, the whole Bernard Sumner-covering-R. Kelly idea actually worked. Despite its title, Coming On Strong was so quiet and unassuming that it was impossible to accuse the band of any kind of posturing. Their second album, The Warning, finds Hot Chip more assertive, and sounding alternately a whole lot more and a whole lot less like the artists they claim as influences.

The Warning’s first song, “Careful,” starts with some dreamy synthesizer lines, then suddenly drops a loud, jabbing beat, over which lead singers Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor engage in some monotonous harmonizing. It’s the sort of full-on electronic song that Hot Chip had kept off their previous albums and EPs, and it sounds alarmingly close to MOR dance music. “And I Was a Boy From School” works better, despite being driven along by a rote three-note synthesizer beat. Its tale of school-age misfits (“We tried, but we don’t have long / We tried, but we don’t belong”) is pretty engaging, and it has a nice mid-tempo break. “Arrest Yourself” sounds like it was constructed by-the-numbers, with horn samples, a chorus that consists entirely of someone shouting “arrest yourself!” and a length of two-and-a-half minutes.

Other parts of The Warning reveal more of Hot Chip’s R&B influences. Taylor uses his best falsettos vocals on “Look After Me,” a languid and soulful break-up song. That song also repeats a single lyrical insight – “Look after me and I’ll look after you / That’s something we both forgot to do” – the way a lot of good pop music does. “The Warning” might be the best thing on the album. It’s easy to see the song as something of a statement of purpose for the band: “Excuse me, sir, I’m lost, I’m looking for a place where I was once found / I’m looking for a home for my malfunctioning being, I’m looking for the mechanical music museum.” Then, over a simple garage beat, Taylor and Goddard quietly sing about breaking your legs and snapping off your head. It’s easy to see “The Warning” as a précis of the best parts of Hot Chip: the beat sticks in your head, and the lyrics offer a (presumably) autobiographical tribute to the power of pop music.

Of course, talking about influences gets you only so far with Hot Chip. The Warning may have been inspired in part by artists like Donna Summer, but the goal is to add bits and pieces of her work to DFA-style electronic music, not to make an album that necessarily sounds much like anything Donna Summer ever did. As such, the slower songs on The Warning have a kind of raggedy, pioneering charm. Five guys from London making home recordings inspired by Prince and R. Kelly may sound like a gimmick or a breezy description, but with Hot Chip it’s also a recipe for something fairly original.

By Tom Zimpleman

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