Music Reviews
One Life Stand

Hot Chip One Life Stand

(EMI/Astralwerks) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Perhaps the most satisfying way to experience Hot Chip’s fourth LP is to hear it backwards, starting with the gorgeous closer Take It In. On top of the simplest of bass lines, they overlay a synth figure that sounds like something disembodied from a Depeche Mode song, complete with dissonant notes that add to the anxiety of the verse. The piece then switches gears, wiping away the industrial smog and noise and replacing it with a meadow of major key piano chords and anodyne vocal harmonies. The musical differences between the two parts reflect the themes of the lyrics they accompany: restlessness and desire in the verses (“My heart attack abates after midnight, but I was in the need of attention”), and a sense of completeness and transcendence in the choruses (“My heart has flown to you just like a dove”). The song’s brilliance lies in the fact that the accompaniment carries the emotional weight, and it’s some of the best work the band has ever done.

Few of tunes are such gems, though. All but doing away with the wry humor of the group's earlier work, Hot Chip's lyrics on One Life Stand focus on affection and romance in a way that says, “We’ve settled down.” However, the stylistic decisions betray the fact that they are still searching for their center. The introspective skittishness and complex pulsation that characterized much of The Warning and Made in the Dark often make way for cloying soul balladry (Slush), 808s and Heartbreak-style synth strings and auto-tune (I Feel Better), and hooka bar-friendly New Age trance (Keep Quiet). One could interpret these decisions as risk-taking maneuvers, though what is adventurous about the ‘90s adult contemporary electric piano of Alley Cats is subject to debate. They’ve pared down much of the production, simplified the rhythms, and shifted focus further away from Joe Goddard’s baritone vocals, forcing many songs to rely heavily on Alexis Taylor’s airy falsetto, which can sound uncomfortably similar to a smooth jazz alto sax or Rush’s Geddy Lee on Ambien.

The theme of domestic bliss comes into clear view on the title track, another highlight, anchored on a pun that implies a life-long hookup. With the most danceable beats and infectious riffs of the album, the band exudes sexuality through its dark disco, or at least as much as one can while playing keytar. Thieves in the Night, the album's opener, finds Hot Chip at full throttle in the keyboards and drum machines (and even lets loose with an electric guitar feature), but the lyrics offer little for the listener to dig into. When Taylor sings, “Happiness is what we always want. May it be that we don’t always want,” eyes will roll at the sentiment that, however well-meaning, is expressed in a way that wouldn’t be out of character for Jason Mraz. My feelings about One Life Stand, as a whole, are mixed. It would be unfair to criticize the band members for heeding new muses, but it is entirely reasonable to hope that those muses are not telling them to become the Coldplay of electronic music.