English dance-rockers Hot Chip have always seemed like the kind of nice boys who you might feel comfortable bringing home to Mom, provided that your mom likes coke-bottle glasses, calculus, and Prince. Sure, the title track of their breakthrough album, The Warning, suggested that “Hot Chip will break your legs/Snap off your head,” but the song was so coy and burbly that it never really sounded threatening, evoking a nerd’s under-breath schoolyard mutterings more than actual violence. Made in the Dark, on the other hand, means its menace.
When teaser single “Shake a Fist” introduces a sample of Todd Rundgren intoning, “If you have a pair of headphones, you better get ’em out and get ’em cranked up, ’cause they’re really gonna help you,” it doesn’t come off as wimpy or campy, because the very next sound is a value-sized synthesizer riff so mind-melting that Daft Punk is probably considering legal action. The track is the closest to peak-time raving that the band has ever come, complete with big buzzy bass waves and the kind of lyrics that don’t matter because it is Time To Rock. Vocalists Alexis Taylor (the falsetto) and Joe Goddard (the dude) barely even sound dweeby because the sound is so colossally metal.
Hot Chip have made much ado about how they crafted this latest album with the utilitarian purpose of their live show in mind. Showily, three tracks—including the sublime lead single “Ready for the Floor,” which single-handedly absolves nü-rave of even its basest sins—are said to have been recorded live in one take. “Shake a Fist” bears all the room-crushing characteristics of something created for encores, and in a way, it’s strange that the band sequences it second here, after the surging, joyous robot surf-rock of “Out at the Pictures.”
Sequencing is actually the biggest issue here, as the band attempts to square its outsize floor-filling ambition with its previously established skill for intimate moments. The contrast between these two album-defining modes is sometimes awkward. Then again, when all the constituent parts are as solid as they are, it’s a lot easier to gloss over a clunky transition.
And the hits do keep coming. “One Pure Thought,” in particular, holds down the back nine with a forceful glide that makes it a fitting heir to the graceful pop tradition established by last album’s “…Boy From School,” albeit with wailing guitars and a fleeting mention of the Macarena. And “Hold On,” which was also impressively recorded live, may be the Hot Chip track that most evokes the native motorik pulse of sister band LCD Soundsystem. Frankly, if you don’t consider that to be a compliment, you might as well get off this ride.
Lest you think that our sweet little chemistry buffs have wholly traded in their pocket protectors for pugilism, don’t fret! Made in the Dark features no fewer than four immaculately modern takes on blue-eyed soul. (Five, if you count “Wrestlers,” the gorgeous piano figure of which brings Christopher Cross to mind, but it’s pretty funky and its lyrics compare love to wrestling, rather explicitly). The best of the lot, “We’re Looking for a Lot of Love,” rides a mournful organ and shivery low-key congas all the way to quiet-storm Hymnville.
All of which is to say, sour-grapes sequencing issues aside, whatever you call a homerun in cricket, this is one. Having already conquered the sensitive hearts and stiff but yearning hips of indie kids everywhere, Hot Chip boldly expand and louden up their sound significantly here, while admirably retaining full command of the forms they’ve already mastered. You can still take Hot Chip home to Mom, but it’s now unlikely that they’ll be frightened away by Dad’s hot temper and gun collection.