The British press have developed a tedious habit of hailing Hot Chip as “Putney’s finest,” when there are far more flattering monikers you could bestow on the electro-pop quintet. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Putney, but is it really necessary to encumber such a profoundly talented group with idle references to their hometown? Theirs is a sound so distinctive that it transcends whatever London suburb birthed them.
Now, four albums into a career that started in its members’ respective bedrooms, Hot Chip is faced with the task of controlling the erratic habits they developed on 2008’s Made in the Dark. Resident genre-jugglers Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard continue to weave electronic anthems amid more intimate numbers, but One Life Stand is a more coherent collection of tunes. The frenzied interludes which sneak-attacked numerous songs on Made in the Dark have been banished, making way for a smooth, sleek, and splendid pop record. Each individual track sticks to its own tone and theme, while the group gracefully sashays through several shifts in tone and tempo.
The first third of the record finds the group reveling in a sprightly electronic groove, starting with rousing album opener “Thieves in the Night.” A lone bass drum thumps repeatedly for some 30 seconds, bolstered by Taylor’s gentle falsetto. Illustrating his knack for charming, everyman poetry, he utters the beguiling “Baby, I’ve lost you here in the crowd/Open your arms, I want to be found” and “My friend told me something so right/He said to be careful of bugs that don’t bite” before a salvo of synthesizers join the party in a dizzying refrain densely layered with electronic noise. “Hand Me Down Your Love” boasts a buoyant Motown piano melody, supported by a call-and-repeat standoff between snare drums and handclaps. Taylor, again, delivers his lyrics with a soft-spoken charm, escalating toward a chorus complete with lush strings.
The closest One Life Stand ever gets to a mainstream dance tune is “I Feel Better,” but besides the novel incorporation of steel drums, it’s rather run-of-the-mill. The title track similarly employs Caribbean-style drums, injecting some vitality and verve to its throbbing verses, while the chorus is enhanced with distorted synthesizers and the manifolding of Taylor’s blissful chant: “I only wanna be your one life stand.” Though there’s a flurry of various sounds running throughout the track, it never recalls the seemingly superfluous frenzy of the group’s earlier work. Rather, these deft touches work to complement one another, forming the archetype for a gleefully infectious pop jaunt.
“Brothers” marks the point where the record shifts into more subdued territory, with Goddard assuming vocal duties for a touching ode to his siblings. His baritone works beautifully as a counterbalance to the higher-pitched Taylor, with the pair singing in harmony on the knowingly tender lullaby “Slush” and atop the honeyed funk of “Alley Cats.” Though there’s no denying Hot Chip pens and performs these mellifluous ditties well, these songs lack the punch of the more energetic—and, specifically, electronic—ones. It’s not because the group is out of their depth per se, but the slower tracks don’t allow them to play to their strengths.
Fortunately, One Life Stand returns to the band’s electronic roots for the last three tracks. “We Have Love,” without question the most dance-floor-friendly track here, recalls the warped electro-soul of The Warning, sporting a bellowing bassline and hymn-like chants. “Keep Quiet,” then, aims for a mellow trance, with Goddard and Taylor trading verses to the measured, lingering notes of a muffled synth.
Taylor’s featherlight howls front a towering, euphoric chorus that sweeps the listener away from the menacing stanzas of his deadpan counterpart on “Take It In.” To save such a beautiful crescendo for the curtain call only amplifies its beauty, standing out as the record’s foremost highlight. The song’s hook, “And oh-oh, my heart has flown to you just like a dove/It can fly, it can fly,” soars delicately, framed by a simple keyboard melody and hymn-like backing vocals. And as the multifaceted arrangement drifts apart piece by piece, we’re left with Taylor’s plaintive prose, pitch-perfect delivery, and melancholic piano: “And oh-oh, please take my heart and keep it close to you/Take it in, take it in.”