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    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Review #7: Made in the Dark by Hot Chip

    Made in the Dark - Hot Chip


    It's that hour when things get shapeless. Shadows are pouring in like swimmers, doing freestyle laps across the ceiling. The moon is a chalky spill, bleaching the mounds of my unwashed clothes. The objects passing by my window are either dead leaves or windswept litter or nothing at all. I'm feeling kind of shapeless right now too, vast and infinitely possible, abstract and increasingly untethered. It's this kind of hour that Made in the Dark was made for, and if its title is to be believed, also the hour when it was made.

    Just try pinning this album down and it'll just as quickly wriggle free from your grip. It's a dance album, yeah, but it's so refracted and giddy with ideas that that single term can't contain it. Because it's also cheerfully informed by soul and torch song and keyboard pop and electro and glitch and their many intersections; it's the party, the party and the afterparty collected together in one shiny package. But above all, Made in the Dark is a shapeshifter, Skrull-sly and Mystique-sexy, aiming to provide a jam for every taste.

    The most direct mission statement of the album, "Bendable Poseable" declares these intentions proudly. The song's a celebration of flexibility and fluidity, with a presentation to match. It opens with a typically robotic voice intoning, "Ben-duh-bul po-suh-bul," sounding as rigid as concrete. But soon enough, the structure starts getting loopy, ceding to a playful swirl of bells and whistles. The second you think you've gathered your bearings, key changes and skittish synths get thrown in next. Even the robotic voice starts breaking down, woozier now, his line readings tripled by reverb. "Time delay," he self-diagnoses, but under Hot Chip's thumb, it morphs into "Tom DeLay" or even "Tyne Daly" with a speech impediment.

    Just as brilliantly mutable and on the nose is "Wrestlers." Overloaded with double entendres, it's couples therapy as Royal Rumble. But it's also about how many tricks and tactics Hot Chip will pull from their playbook to win you over: gospelly handclaps, backward-speak (reminiscent of their label's leak watermark), looped hooks, Alexis Taylor's unctuous come-ons ("I've got a roll of coins/ I'm aiming for your loins and I will never stop"), pretty piano lines, double-time vocal tag-teams. The stimuli here are incessant, but somehow they never feel extraneous or less than exhilarating.

    Other tracks take opposite routes, trafficking in irony or at least goofy winks. "One Pure Thought" is actually schizophrenic with a multiple-choice test of ever-shifting polyrhythms and "Don't Dance," powered by a restless club-banger beat, comes off more like a dare than an order. "Shake A Fist," probably the album's best song and the recipient of a delicious DJ Shadow-esque intermission, is likely to have you shaking every other part of your body before it reaches your fist. But no matter what the approach, the emotion, intention, or delivery, one clear notion will start taking shape after just a few spins: that this is Hot Chip's most consistent, most intelligent, and most fun work to date. That Made in the Dark is the perfect album to steer me through this ambivalent hour, even the next few hours on repeat. But more importantly, it's ambitious and amorphous enough to soundtrack far more than just tonight. It's excellent enough to stick with me for years to come, lending its slippery, elastic, thrilling stamp to these dark ages. 8.9/10

    * MP3: "Made in the Dark" - Hot Chip from Made in the Dark [Buy it]
    * Website: Hot Chip

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