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Hot Chip

Indie-dance synthpop has embraced such a widescreen spectrum since Gallic duo DAFT PUNK came in to being, but London’s “bliptronic” HOT CHIP have a certain je nais se quoi all of their own, distinguished by frontman Alexis Taylor’s falsetto-styled vox and Joe Goddard’s laid-back monotones. To add spice and flavour to their live act, from 2004 onwards the pair were augmented full-time by multi-instrumentalists Owen Clarke (of FINAL FANTASY) and Al Doyle of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM), plus synths/drum-machinist Felix Martin.
Formed in 2000 by the aforementioned Taylor and Goddard (both multi-instrumentalists: the latter concentrating on keyboards), HOT CHIP’s first foray into their art was with spring 2001’s `Mexico EP’. Opening with the JEFF BUCKLEY-esque `Beeting’, the sombre song was a million miles from the mirror-ball antics that belied their future sounds. Delivered by their local Victory Gardens imprint (run by Southall Riot), there were further instalments of anti-techno acoustica in `Sometimes All I Need’, `Tape Spool Sound’, `Perfect Circle’ and `The Only One, Yeah’.
2002’s punningly-titled `Sanfrandisco E-Pee’ (released on CD-r for their own Ringsting imprint) pitted Taylor’s mousy melancholia with techno-lite heartbeats such as the opening title, `Making Tracks’, etc. Shortly afterwards as guest member Rob Smoughton sought out a solo career as Grosvenor, a trio of fill-in members – at first – fitted in perfectly to HOT CHIP’s plan, as Moshi Moshi Records helped give the band the kick-start they required.
Sandwiched between a couple of funky/soulful/soul-less singles: delete as appropriate (`Down With Prince’ and the detached but superb `Playboy’), COMING ON STRONG (2004) {*8} filled a strange gap between The BETA BAND, SUPER FURRY ANIMALS and a Cockney KRAFTWERK. If the blues had a baby and called it electro-rock’n’roll, opener `Take Care’ would be its by-product, while the morning-after hangover of `Beach Party’ dipped its toe into calmer waters – without getting wet. Name-checking not PRINCE, but STEVIE WONDER, `Keep Fallin’ was practice for Taylor’s highly-strung vocals, and SADE came to mind for the tasty `Crap Kraft Dinner’. Slow-burning throughout its cool-in-the-shade techno-soul sounds (the beautiful `Bad Luck’ preceded the kraut-rock interception of `You Ride, We Ride, In My Ride’); HOT CHIP fans might not agree, but this was the group at its most inventive.
E.M.I. (UK) and Astralwerks (US) came along at the right time for the 5-piece; proof in the pudding, the Top 40 positions for `Over And Over’, `…Boy From School’, their sophomore set THE WARNING (2006) {*8} and a well-timed re-issue of `Over And Over’ (the latter captured a Best Single Of The Year by the NME). The Mercury Music Prize-nominated album, meanwhile, had other moments of electro-pop grandeur in the drum ‘n’ bass `Careful’, the dreamy `Colours’ (a single not eligible for the charts) and the DAFT PUNK-meets-OMD `Arrest Yourself’.
Buckling to the bounce of the disco-friendly Top 10 smash, `Ready For The Floor’, parent third set MADE IN THE DARK (2008) {*8} was a positive leap forward into a fusion of dance and pop. Whether slightly lilting under the heat of some Saturday night fever, the cure was the chill in the morning daylight a la neo-soul ballad `We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love’ and the subdued title track. Not as immediate as their aforementioned body-popping hit, the witty `One Pure Thought’, or the SPARKS-like `Hold On’, or the funk-addled menace of the cranked up `Shake A Fist’, HOT CHIP (helped by the dry Goddard) were even giving instructions: `Don’t Dance’! A subsequent spin-off remix EP that graced ROBERT WYATT (and Geese) on `We’re Looking…’, `Made In The Dark’ and `Whistle For Will’ was probably overlooked by modern-day mirror-ball schwingers.
After both branching out on solo album exploits (TAYLOR on 2008’s `Rubbed Out’ and GODDARD on 2009’s fruity `Harvest Festival’), the rpm’s and grooves were contained on HOT CHIP’s sonically clever fourth album, ONE LIFE STAND (2010) {*7}. Just as playful and boisterous as they focused on “soft” songs about lasting love and domesticity, Goddard was given a little more rein in tracks like `Take It In’ and `Keep Quiet’. Although the set fell short of a Top 10 place, there was nothing to panic with the cutesy-pie `Hand Me Down Your Love’ and the buoyant Top 50 title track.
A little restless from the pair’s respective side-project sets; Taylor for the collaborative ABOUT GROUP’s `Start & Complete’ and Goddard for The 2 BEARS’ `Be Strong’ (not forgetting Doyle and Martin’s NEW BUILD for `Yesterday Was Lived And Lost’), the HOT CHIP quintet re-emerged on Domino Records for 80s-styled IN OUR HEADS (2012) {*7}. Stripping away the deep-burning solemnity of their previous lovelorn album (all but `Look At Where We Are’), there were funky broadsides as well as a bright and bubbly beats by way of `Motion Sickness’, `How Do You Do?’, `Don’t Deny Your Heart’ and `Night & Day’. Although the record made inroads into the US Top 75, it stalled at No.14 in Britain.
There was no denying the group’s prolific work-rate, and in evidence was further moonlighting opportunities:- ABOUT GROUP dishing out `Between The Walls’ (alongside Pat Thomas, THIS HEAT’s Charles Hayward and SPRING HEEL JACK’s John Coxon), ALEXIS TAYLOR on solo debut `Await Barbarians’ (2014), The 2 BEARS on `The Night Is Young’ (with Raf Rundell) and NEW BUILD for `Pour It On’ (2014).
If full-time fans were a little weary of these extracurricular activities, then their worries were put to one side for the gloriously beat-tastic, WHY MAKE SENSE? (2015) {*8}. Sampling, in part, Philly’s FIRST CHOICE, attached to a funky voice-box that would make HERBIE HANCOCK puff, the high spot was undeniably the opening cut `Huarache Lights’; this year’s “Get Lucky” and surely a tip for the top. Following this all-new signature tune was going to be tough, but the joyous HOT CHIP and producer Mark Ralph rolled off gleeful weekenders like `Love Is The Future’ (starring DE LA SOUL’s Posdnuos) and `Need You Now’ (with a cameo by Bernard Fowler). Spiked and injected with a fresh air of R&B, hip-hop and disco, the lights were so sparkling and eye-stunningly bright on `Cry For You’, the PRINCE-esque `Started Right’, and the clap-handed `Dark Night’. Whereas disco was king up to now, the flavour of a soft/country-rock feel courtesy of `White Wine And Fried Chicken’ proved the ‘Chip were no one-trick pony.
Forsaking anything remotely indie-hugging as the aforementioned one-that-got-away, “Huarache Lights”, June 2019’s A BATH FULL OF ECSTASY {*7} was, for many, an all-too-easy step sideways or back, on to kinetic electro-dancefloor/funk fusion. Not that this was a bad thing, it was just that with the slush and sentimental production values (from Philippe Zdar of CASSIUS and Rodaidh McDonald) fixated with 80s-style retro; sadly, Zdar died two days prior to the album’s release. Although the said pair might’ve missed a trick in bouncing the set higher than its No.11 peak, the 5-piece HOT CHIP played to their crystal-clear quirky strengths on `Melody Of Love’, `Spell’ (initially scribed for KATY PERRY), the single `Hungry Child’ and the retro-beaten `Echo’.
© MC Strong/MCS May2015-Jun2019

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