Hot Chip must have gotten their album titles backward. Their debut, Coming On Strong was the real warning shot, bumping lazy trip-hop beats beneath promises of bumpin’ Yo La Tengo, calling out motherfuckers who say their down with Prince, and generally getting down to the sound of irony. Yielding a handful of good singles, a few quotable quotes and lots of fun, it had us watching for what was to come while we grooved to their snarky funk jams. On album number two, titled The Warning, we find Hot Chip really coming on strong with an incredible set of songs, singles with even more energy, and a slightly straightened face, which still delivers those deadpan one-liners when need be.
Since we’ve already been warned, we already knew about the band’s fondness for His Purple Badness and for lighthearted lyrics juxtaposed with crystalline electro-funk. On The Warning, that lethal combination reaches its critical mass, cluster bombing rather than nuking, crafted in the manner of a great pop album while masquerading as a dance record. Certainly you think I’m joking—a dance record is a pop record, isn’t it? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, but I can’t name that many knob twiddlers who can pen a song as well as Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard.
There was, of course, one actual warning, that being the first single, “Over and Over.” As that track teased the album, it revealed the band going into a dirtier, dancier, even house-like sound. Its zenlike chorus seemed to celebrate the repetition of dance music, whilst cleverly comparing it to “a monkey with a miniature cymbal.” Yet, this song, though emitting the illusion of canned beats and house banality, is more than dynamic, switching from soulful organ to fuzzy indie guitar licks to a seemingly random series of spelled words, such as “C-A-S-I-O” and “K-I-S-S-I-N-G.” There was, also, the DFA remix of “(Just Like We) Breakdown” that had been released in the States, but the album version, a minimal and percussive standout, is more icy and graceful, like a more exotic Junior Boys with 303 handclaps.
“Tchaparian” delivers remnants of the past, toggling between quirky samples and lyrics such as “watch yourself/I’ll come with a smack,” but it’s one of few songs that could have worked with Coming On Strong‘s lager-swigging rhythms. Rather, the eleven songs that surround it all seem to project new ideas for the group, such as the hyperactive glitch beats of “Careful,” or the childlike “Colours,” which almost resembles The Boy Least Likely To in remix form. For more tender souls, “Look After Me” delivers a soft, slow jam built on gliding guitar licks and Taylor’s emotional vocals.
Hot Chip’s best offerings on The Warning come in the form of “And I Was a Boy From School” and the subtler title track. “Boy From School” (as it’s known in single form) is the most hook-friendly tune of the dozen (there’s a track twelve, just don’t stop it after “No Fit State”). Though it’s catchy and it may bounce with the best of today’s discotheque darlings, it’s a surprisingly heartfelt song, making for a combination that hasn’t been brought together this well since the first half of New Order’s Substance. As Taylor sings, “We try, but we don’t belong,” he injects human feeling into the unabashedly hot beats, culminating in one devastatingly awesome single. Contrarily, “The Warning” is still a bit snarky, as Goddard declares, “Hot Chip will break your legs/ snap off your head.” And yet it portrays a sense of melodic melancholy, successfully pulling off that juxtaposition thing they do so well, while retaining some less obvious, but nonetheless hypnotic hooks.
It was easy to like Hot Chip from the get go—who couldn’t appreciate “Crap Kraft Dinner?” But that admiration can easily turn to obsession with repeated listens to The Warning. I, for one, am stunned by this record. Hot Chip have outdone themselves, crafting an achievement in electro-pop that loses none of their established joyousness yet gains something in the way of sincerity.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.