Hot Chip “Why Make Sense?”
When I listened to “Huarache Lights” by Hot Chip for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I thought that the song was about an Aztec city that hosted pre-Berghainian nights of dance. And since no one can prove that this assumption is wrong, Hot Chip celebrate this long forlorn club culture and of course the lighting, which was certainly very important to the Aztecs. Sun worshipping and the like.
I have to admit that I was a tiny bit dissapointed when I learnt that Huarache Lights are in fact Nike sneakers that Hot Chip like to wear. So trainers, as in still very important means of distinction for bearded hipsters – and beardless pop nerds like Dan Snaith (Caribou) and Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), both of whom I have mixed up several times in the past for diverse reasons (voice, pullover). Hopefully Snaith doesn’t wear Huaraches whose name by the way refers back to Mexican hippie-sandals and by that we come almost full circle back to the Aztecs.
So where was I? Oh right, “Why Make Sense?”, Hot Chip’s sixth album in fifteen years as a band is to be released soon and I personally like it as much as their five records before. By that I don’t necessarily mean that it sounds exactly like the previous records, but yet somehow in a way similar. Hot Chip is instantly recognisable, mainly thanks to Taylor’s sanso-voice (unless you confuse it with Snaith’s), even if this time the trademark-sound appears in braver variations. “Why Make Sense?” is a lot more daring than for example “One Life Stand” of 2010 that was all 70s disco, which still plays an important role for Hot Chip in 2015, but not in an as continuous and smooth way as before: the analogue title track rattles and rolls and Taylor’s voice sounds like Andy McCluskey of OMD. In “I Need You Now” Taylor omits any singing at all and instead we get to listen to a thirty year-old Sinnaman-sample. “Love is the Future” is Hot Chip’s hommage to the nineties, including a guest appearance of De la Soul’s Posdnuos and Green Gartside as arranger; the ballads “White Wine and Fried Chicken” and “So Much Further to Go” are overly adult oriented, but after all, Hot Chip are set to address the big questions on this album:
Can we still make club music or are we too old?
Have machines been invented that are better than we are?
Should we still be wearing sneakers?
“Don’t worry”, you’d tell them while patting their shoulders in their intarsia-patterned knitted sweaters, “just keep doing what you’re doing”, and then you’d dance away to the cheesy funk beat of “Started Right”.
And by the way, “Huarache Lights” is about getting dressed up to go out and about dancing, so trainers are only featured indirectly and with a track like that one, they’ll win me over time and time again.
I am well aware of the fact that the whole “the first record is still the best one”-attitude kind of gives me the unsexy aura of a grumpy doctrinaire record dealer, but I really can’t help it in this case. After the first record – well okay, let’s not be nerdier than absolutely necessary – after the first two albums that I was greatly sympathetic of, something got lost, within Hot Chip or me or between the two of us. A part of that something, not all of it. When there’s a new track playing on the radio I still get excited, I still admire their ideas and their expertise, however there’s a certain fatigue to the delight and a certain bleakness to the admiration.
You could say that it’s normal that the sense of elation of the first encounter passes and the creative energy dwindles a little, but it might indeed be something else in this particular case. Maybe the success Hot Chip has had, has not been all too beneficial, particularly to this kind of band, maybe its members should never have gotten to know how gifted they truly are. It seems as if this recognition has at once rendered them too self-confident and self-conscious at the same time. In comparison to the earlier days of Hot Chip, the charm of small gestures as well as the ingenious brazenness in transgressing established conventions have both vanished – replaced by an attitude of calculated complacence.
If that sort of attitude appeals to you, then “Why Make Sense?” will be just the record for you.
“Why Make Sense?” escapes my power of judgement and leaves me in a familiar state of indecision. Whenever I want to make the decision to like the record, then all of a sudden an impression of emptiness forces itself upon me; whenever I want to deem the record a poorly motivated, cooly staged all together pathetic effort, then suddenly warm well arranged synthies enthrall me, the melodies get to me and I am under the impression that I am just in that instant listening to perfect pop.
Only very few observations have eventually endured this process:
There is an interesting sort of harshness and wonkiness to the title track.
The drums are mostly boring.
Fantasies about funk, as proven by “Started Right”, still suit Hot Chip very well. On top of that the track sports the most notable line: “You’re making my hear feel like it’s my brain.” My heart, weary and overly rationalised from listening to the record over and over, is left wondering whether the record might not just be describing itself with these very words?