Felix Martin admits that the latest Hot Chip album, Made in the Dark, is an odd listen, full of jarring juxtapositions, unexpected dynamic shifts, and general weirdness, but the percussionist offers no apologies for that. Since forming in 2000, the English group has built its reputation on accessible, melodic, and eminently danceable singles such as the throbbing “Over and Over” and the more pensive but no less backside-prodding “And I Was a Boy From School”. Made in the Dark, Hot Chip’s third full-length album, features more of the same in the form of “Ready for the Floor”, an agreeably contagious electro-pop number that the five-piece played on Late Night With Conan O’Brien a few weeks back. If you caught that performance, you might remember seeing diminutive lead singer Alexis Taylor jogging in place like a bespectacled boot-camp instructor.
The rest of the disc is less straightforward, however. “Shake a Fist”, for example, starts as a call-and-response chant with a tribal beat courtesy of Martin and his weapon of choice, the Elektron Machinedrum, but, after an abrupt spoken interjection by a sampled Todd Rundgren, the song devolves into a digital miasma of phasers-on-stun synthesizer blasts. Elsewhere, “One Pure Thought” kicks off with uncharacteristic electric-guitar chording before morphing into scenester-approved psychedelic dance pop that’ll have Of Montreal fans reaching for their red-vinyl hot pants. The album’s title track, on the other hand, is a spare exercise in blue-eyed soul, while “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love” works a love-me-down groove complete with handclaps and gospel-inflected backing vocals.
Made in the Dark has its share of boosters, including the editors of Mixmag, who named it album of the month in January. Others, however, have been put off by the collection’s frenetic eclecticism. Pitchfork’s Mark Pytlik described it as “patchy” and “turbulent”, writing that “Hot Chip have a big record in them and this isn’t it.”
“I’m surprised by the conservatism of a lot of the reactions to the album,” Martin admits when the Straight reaches him at bandmate Al Doyle’s flat. “I think people get fixated on this idea of albums having a kind of ”˜classic’ sound, or that they know when they hear a ”˜classic’ album. We didn’t want to try and make a ”˜classic’ record that would have a particular sound. We just wanted to do something quite experimental and quite out-there. I think the fact that we’ve managed to be successful, in getting good chart positions in the U.K. and at the same time making a record that is actually quite weird and confusing to even a site like Pitchfork—the guy doesn’t seem to actually get what we’re trying to do—it’s kind of cool to me.”
According to Martin, who is responsible for most of Hot Chip’s rhythmic drive, the group is afflicted with something akin to musical attention-deficit disorder: “Speaking collectively, we get bored quite easily with other people’s records, and with our own records at times. And it makes us quite restless, creatively, and we always want to be moving on to the next thing. We’re not really interested in just reproducing the same sound. We don’t find it exciting just to kind of write ”˜Over and Over’ again, or whatever. And it does mean that our sound is kind of all over the place, and I think some people find that a bit disorienting, but we’re just restless people, and we always want to be doing something different.”
That restless spirit means Hot Chip is constantly evolving. Started primarily as a vehicle for the songs of Taylor and school pal Joe Goddard, the project has grown into a five-way partnership, and Martin says Made in the Dark is a true group effort. “Joe and Alexis, who are the principal songwriters, had an established songwriting relationship, which relied mostly on Joe producing, coming up with loops and bits and pieces of tracks, and then Alexis adding the lyrical content and melodies and so on that he’s thought of while he’s on the bus or in the bath or wherever he happened to be,” the electronic-percussion specialist says. “But because we play live so much together, me and [guitarist-keyboardist] Owen [Clarke] and Al have come to have some influence on the way the songs are put together. So there was more of a traditional rock-band style of recording on this one, where we actually did go to a studio and just recorded tracks that we’ve done live for the last couple of years in a quite conventional band fashion.”
In contrast, the group’s members tend to work individually when it comes to remix jobs. Over the past four years, everyone from Amy Winehouse and the Scissor Sisters to Queens of the Stone Age and Bright Eyes has padded Hot Chip’s coffers by commissioning mixes. Martin admits that his cohorts will take on all comers, regardless of genre, but he says he no longer wants any part of it. He’d rather spend his time deejaying or working with Doyle on their side project, Lanark. “It’s Joe who does all the remixes now,” he says. “I haven’t done a remix since the Kraftwerk one [”˜La Forme/Aerodynamik’] that I did last year. I basically became disinterested in doing them and stopped doing them. I started finding them really boring to do, but Joe seems to be still plucking away, so there’s probably hundreds of Hot Chip remixes coming out in the next few months. I’ve lost track of what they all are.”
It’s pointless to speculate on what those tracks might sound like, given Hot Chip’s refusal to root itself in any particular style. It’s an approach that confounds some, but Martin feels gratified knowing that those whose opinions really matter appreciate what he and his bandmates are doing. “Some of the things that people have said about the record are not very nice to hear, but there have been really positive things,” he notes. “Robert Wyatt, who we recently worked with, told us that he likes the music. And Kraftwerk, who we did those remixes for last year, were very positive about our music. And frankly, being surrounded by musicians like that who are giving you positive feedback on your work is a lot more valuable than reading reviews by journalists, when you don’t really know who they are or where they’re coming from.” -
Hot Chip plays the Commodore Ballroom on Monday (April 21).