Hot Chip continue to blur the lines on their eighth studio album.
Recently in the group chat we got into a discussion about Poptimism versus Rockism; if you don’t know, then basically it’s the belief in music criticism that pop was less artistically viable than rock, and that only the latter produced anything which had agency.
This has largely been debunked, and at its heart ignored the fact that some of rock’s best numbers – Last Nite, Brown Sugar, Smells Like Teen Spirit – are in fact pop songs in every sense.
Equally (we’re getting to the point) there are plenty of artists who’ve hopped between the two’s constructs to great success – think LCD Soundsystem, Bjork and Gorillaz as examples.
Hot Chip have skirted these margins for their entire career; nobody could accuse them of being rock but, for example, their breakout single – 2006’s Over and Over – certainly had no pretensions when it came to its radio-friendly intent.
Sixteen years later, Freakout/Release is their eighth album and the first since 2019’s A Bath Full of Ecstasy. Recorded using the band’s purpose built Relax & Enjoy studio in east London for the first time (which guitarist Al Doyle put together during lockdown), the freedom unlimited access to it gave created an environment for a steady flow of ideas.
Their ability to take an audience with them also gave confidence to ambitiously meld darker lyrical themes whilst musically still being uplifting and groove friendly.
‘We were living through a period where it was very easy to feel like people were losing control of their lives in different ways,’ explained founding member Joe Goddard. ‘There’s a darkness that runs through a lot of those tracks.’
Getting this balance right is something that takes either finesse or dumb luck. The title-track is the quintet at their most jarringly discordant, vocoded interjections and guitar stabs framing sanguine words, ‘I feel trapped in this world/But life’s what you make it’, with Goddard using Seven Nation Army as an unlikely frame of reference.
But then Eleanor, with its uplifting house pads and chorus you could hear from space, is reassuringly the work of a band who always have a groove to drop into, even if singer Alexis Taylor is using it to talk about, ‘all-encompassing pain, and how you have to walk through it’.
To add to this air of finding sanctuary in what you know (friends, family, the dance floor), opener Down is a chunk of soulful house that captures a head full of hedonism that we might not think we’ll feel again.
Like any feeling, these are not impermanent refuges though, and on the introspective Broken and Not Alone the emphasis is on keeping straight enough for yourself but also doing it in a way that could help others to help themselves.
These are the sort of emotional peaks and troughs that some could argue shouldn’t play a part of the entertainment landscape, but tackling the dystopia is an act of bravery of itself, and although The Evil That Men Do is as self-explanatory in theme as its title – a hellscape we never asked for, emphasised in a cameo from a sniping Cadence Weapon – closer Out Of My Depth effervesces a kind of pride and self-awareness which has real meaning.
Written off by many, Hot Chip have continued to evolve inside their musical niche of one. Still ravers looking for the comfy chairs, on Freakout/Release they prove that vulnerability and hope belong in pop and rock to anyone who needs them right now.