Hot Chip: More Than a Singles Band?

02/03/2010 4:45 AM |

Hot Chip
One Life Stand

Hot Chip has always had a way of making what can sometimes be very slight-sounding music seem much bigger than it is—bigger than most things, actually. They make the kind of records that feel like game-changers, records that would cause a room, or even an arena full of people to sing along to words that seem as poignant as any that have ever been spoken, even when they are decidedly anything but. I hesitate to say they’re like the Coldplay of electro-pop, but only briefly.

Paradoxically, this really isn’t such a bad thing: Hot Chip clearly takes great pleasure in swinging for the fences the way they do, and so we do too. The results, spotty as they have always been, are never quite as important as the original idea, which says an awful lot about the band’s inherent charm, but even more about our expectations for them: I don’t know of another band that we’re more willing to let off the hook for their missteps. We let them dabble in every genre under the sun because we know that at some point, they’ll stumble across something, some far-fetched combination of styles and tones that you’ll enjoy far too much to even bother complaining that they can’t maintain it for very long.

But as a result, I never exactly find myself wanting to listen to a Hot Chip record all the way through. I’ll gladly sign up for at least weekly plays of “Boy From School,” “Colours,” “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love,” “Keep Fallin” and a handful of other tracks, but I’d almost never listen to them consecutively, and never within the context of the full-lengths they’re on. Hot Chip is a band that has traditionally worked well in small, very carefully selected doses.

With the release of their fourth full-length, One Life Stand, this is still the case, but less so than ever before. They seem more focused than usual, on an album that only really sees them jumping between two distinct styles: big, thumping melodramatic dance songs, and big, swooping, melodramatic ballads. The album starts with an example of the former: “Thieves in the Night” is driven by an uncharacteristically straightforward drumbeat, skittering, bouncy synths, and a vocal melody so feel-good you’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, ‘Happiness is what we all want’ is totally a good line.” The next three songs carry on similarly, with the title-track revealing itself as the most obvious candidate here for dance-floor supremacy.

But then they shift gears, and for three songs in the middle of the album, they do the soulful, smoothed-out ballad thing. “Brothers” is a perfect hand-holding, teary-eyed track boasting a melody that would have translated equally well to any number of sounds. “Slush” is a stark, beautiful song that’s built on a surprisingly solid base of background vocals repeating the phrase “humina humina humina” over and over again. By the time you get to the final third of the record, though, you’ve likely run out of steam, and they have too, closing things out with three songs that don’t do much of anything, and worse, plod along at an annoyingly moderate pace.

Aside from the uninspired ending, One Life Stand‘s biggest flaw is the tendency for the songs to last just a bit too long, without ever really developing much past the three-minute mark. They take an album that contains more high points than they’ve ever managed to put together in one place, and through sheer, unrelenting repetition, they come dangerously close to rendering it unlistenable. Too much of a good thing, though, is a pretty good problem to have. And anyway, we forgive them. Again.