Hot Chip may have broken through as a punchy, DFA-produced dance act, but the work they’ve produced since has showed that the group is a bit more sensitive than the party-centric — and all around fantastic — The Warning may have eluded. By their third album Made in the Dark, Hot Chip was already starting to explore mellower territory and the overall vibe was notably less festive. This transition was completed with their last full-length One Life Stand, a gorgeous collection of soul-baring synth-pop ballads. But apparently the group doesn’t have plans to continue this trajectory, at least for the time being. With latest release In Our Heads, their first for Domino, it appears Hot Chip are yearning to take a step back backward and recapture the balance Made in the Dark offered as the album finds the band spending equal time dancing and mellowing out.
This is not at all to say that this album is a redux of the band’s third record — it’s a much different animal. For one, it has some of the group’s most upbeat material since The Warning; it also houses some of their goofiest since that record. Opening with “Motion Sickness,” Hot Chip proves that five records in, they haven’t lost an ounce of their ability to craft classic electro-pop. It’s an undeniable gem and sounds squarely at home in the latter portion of their catalogue. With the next two tracks, “How Do You Do?” and “Don’t Deny Your Heart,” the band is already bouncing heavier than they have in years. The latter certainly proves that the band hasn’t lost their ability to craft infectious dance tracks. From a production standpoint, nods to the new wave of Scritti Politti or Pet Shop Boys are heavier than ever.
In Our Heads assumes the dubious honor of being the band’s least consistent effort since their debut, Coming on Strong, holding some of their most disposable songs in quite some time. “Look at Where We Are,” for one, feels phoned in, and the aforementioned “How Do You Do?”, although a decent song, doesn’t really hold up against similar tracks in their back catalog. “Night and Day” is the most obvious misfire, coming across like an attempt to recapture the ironic playfulness of The Warning. Unfortunately, lines like “So please quit your jibba jabba” and “Do I look like a rapper?” just come across as silly. In addition, the cartoonish production touches don’t benefit the track one iota. The band was once able to thrive in such goofy moments, but here they just sound campy and awkward. Hot Chip have turned the corner in their career; centered around fidelity and brotherly love, One Life Stand was the band in mature mode and despite how satisfying their earlier work was, this mode suited them well. In Our Heads works best when the band keeps down that path.
Despite its inconsistencies, In Our Heads still has plenty to offer. For one, even the lesser tracks are agreeable enough, and considering how high the album’s highs are, they’re all the more acceptable. The slow burning “Flutes” is dazzling, complete with a tension building, steadily climbing synth lead. “Ends of the Earth” has the type of propulsive beat and winning melodies at which Hot Chip have always excelled. Elsewhere, “Let It Be Him” has, of all things, an entrancing slide guitar lead. I could keep going — there are winning moments all over the record. The bottom line is that Hot Chip haven’t lost their knack for crafting sophisticated synth pop, and even if the ratio of stellar tracks has waned a bit, they’re still worth your time.