Here’s a challenge. Describe Hot Chip to an indifferent friend in as few words as you can. If you’re struggling, that’s because all the usual tick-box tags fade as sharply as your friend’s attention span when faced with a band as wilfully divergent as Hot Chip. Their first album, 2004’s Coming On Strong, was broadly overlooked by critics at the time as ‘chill-out’, that most career-staining of rubber stamps. So it took 2006’s The Warning to alert the mainstream to Hot Chip’s strident, infectious creativity. And a certain song about ‘a monkey with a miniature cymbal’.
The good news is that Made In The Dark only ups the idiosyncratic ante, while adding a deeper thrust to their made-in-the-shed aesthetic. One Pure Thought embodies their crossover appeal, starting with a harsh, jarring, very un-Hot Chip guitar and a dark, stormy synth, before unexpectedly breaking into a booty-shaking beat. Elsewhere, Shake A Fist is a swirling blast of tribal disco that just about gets away with that Todd Rundgren interlude, and the band’s trade in after-hours copulation soundtracking resurfaces in soulful ditties like We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love – Hot Chip somehow manage to alternate between ironic zest and spine-tingling sincerity without it seeming at all jarring.
What prevents this from being incontestably exceptional, though, is the inclusion of one or two throwaway, whimsical tracks that should have been left on the drawing board. It may also fail to impact upon any one audience – indie kids or electro-heads – but, then again, often it’s the music that falls between the formalistic cracks that’s the most intriguing. So don’t even bother trying to describe Hot Chip to your friend. Just tell him or her to buy the fucking album.
Hot Chip play Barrowland, Glasgow on 26 Feb.
A slightly shorter version of this review appears in this month’s Skinny magazine.