Wednesday, July 19, 2006

CD Review: The Warning by Hot Chip

Hot Chip's debut album, Coming On Strong, was a goofy delight filled with memorably silly lyrics ("I'm like Stevie Wonder but I see things"), interesting takes on hip-hop sensibilities, the contrasting high/low vocals of Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, and a heaping helping of electro funk. It almost sounded like a joke at first but actually got better on repeated listens. However, Hot Chip's new album, The Warning, is one that hits you hard from the first listen. With less silliness, less hip-hop references, and a little more pathos, Hot Chip has crafted an album that's better than their debut.

Released in America only seven months after Coming On Strong, The Warning offers quite a contrast from Hot Chip's previous album from the opening song. "Careful" is a very strong start to the album. With its pounding, off-kilter beat, repeated vocal samples, and occasional moments of serenity, it doesn't sound like anything else they've done. The club-ready "And I Was A Boy From School" is a take on the classic concept of young love that is lost. Most of the song is sung in direct unison by Alexis and Joe. It gives the song a haunting, almost otherworldly quality that makes it stand out. You feel genuine emotion when they sing "We tried/But we didn't have long/We tried/But we didn't belong."

In the same vein of "A Boy From School" comes the R&B-esque ballad "Look After Me." Soft guitars and violins highlight this song, which almost passes for "blue-eyed soul." "Colours" is a song that proves that simple can be beautiful. The first parts of the song are driven mostly by organ-like synths. Even when the song develops into a faster-paced beat, it doesn't get much more complex. Even the lyrics are kept pretty simple. There are probably, at most, 10 lines of lyrics in the entire 5-minute-plus song. "No Fit State" is an 80's throwback with Joe on vocals that is reminiscent of Human League. The hidden track "Won't Wash," with its tinkly, music box backdrop, is probably the creepiest Hot Chip song you'll ever hear.

Hot Chip's lovable goofiness hasn't disappeared entirely on The Warning. The bonafide jam "Over And Over" is lots of fun. The chorus (which heavily features the title) is catchy even if the lyrics are sometimes sparse. A couple of times in the song, words are spelled out. Starting off with "kissing," the words just get sillier. There's "sexying," "casio" (as in the keyboard brand of choice for many musicians), "you," "me," and even "I." “Careful” mixes lyrics about balloons with those about being "with you as though you are here." The title track is reminiscent of stuff from Coming On Strong. Most notably, the song contains hip-hop style boasts done in a decidedly non-hip-hop style, similar to songs on their previous album : "Hot Chip will break your legs/Snap off your head/Hot Chip will put you down/Under the ground."

The Warning is a very good album and one that is better than its predecessor. While some of the elements that made me like Hot Chip (hip-hop references, humor) are lessened, those are also the same elements that probably kept people from liking them. There is more variation in their sound and Alexis Taylor's vocals have gotten better. The album starts to become a little hit-or-miss towards the middle but things never get dull or boring. If you were turned off by Hot Chip because they seemed too silly or cheeky, then you need to check out The Warning. It will probably change your mind about them.

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