Coming on Strong
ot Chip has a talent for splitting any potential audience straight down the gut. They offer no option for middle-grounders or stand-abouts, no time for hesitant fence-straddling. Fans of novelty pop and slapdash spunk will undoubtedly enjoy their debut record, Coming on Strong; for those who prefer their records a little less morning-breath, you’ll smell this one’s approach and smother the light with a pillow.
Combining the synth compositions of early electro-funk like Fresh-era Sly, Prince, and Shuggie Otis with the whimsical smirk of the Beta Band or the Beastie Boys, Hot Chip is all too hotly-tipped this year, despite the fact that Coming on Strong is still unavailable in the States and struggling for recognition in its native UK. A contested show at SXSW helped and hurt (Stylus’ own Justin Cober-Lake insisted it was the worst set he witnessed), and its dual reception gets back to the unavoidable fact that Coming on Strong is the penultimate record of odd repute: love or hate, and maybe a little what-the-fuck at the edges.
A tongue-in-cheek quintet in the line of the Darkness, Goldie Lookin’ Chain and to varying degrees Fannypack, Hot Chip melts chocolaty melancholic soul onto juggy machine-beats and soft synth patterns. They craft the whole lot from Play-Doh and dense dopesmoke, making Pee-Wee fantasia of late-seventies R&B. If you were untouched by English, you might hear this record and believe it the next coming of Hall and Oates or, split the difference, the Junior Boys, but you’d be missing the crux.
Of course, it’s just more strange white boys following their muse on the three-am emptiness of Cheez-Whiz humor and a packet of whippets. They pull no punches (and spare no taste) in an effort that’s quite often simply obnoxious, if cheaply humorous at times. Unfortunately, the past few years have seen this sort of humor managed far more adeptly, by bands like the Unicorns, Scissor Sisters, Datarock, and on the forthcoming Art Brut record. Here, laughs redouble in a self-conscious void (the rest of the class stares at their shoelaces, unamused and put-out by the break in class’s rhythm). With cheap gag choruses and tinfoil lyrical refrains, Hot Chip dizzies with their perplexing lack of both honesty and observation. These are kids with urine on their fingers, laughing five-deep in the stalls and sniffing each other’s cold stink.
“Keep Fallin’” locks into step with beat-head Felix Martin’s bed-head Casio thump and ascendant synth chimes. As with much of the album, the musical compositions themselves are interesting enough for the modern clime, but when lead singer Alexis Taylor limps into lines like “I’m like Stevie Wonder / But I can see things” and “Move you like you stood in something nasty,” the juxtaposition is like a wet-willy—awkward, sick and the cause of linoleum convulsions.
“Playboy” dumps dirt on a funereal mass of dark synth-beats and background choruses, but again there’s far too much school-boy gag in their disguise to focus on the backdrop. Follower “Crap Craft Dinner” is as numb as its title—a wheezy microwaveable electropop filler that leaves you empty and ready for ‘tots and tacos twenty minutes later. Hot Chip delivers the drollery with such unsettling angst that it’s all the more underwhelming upon inspection.
But it would be too easy to succumb to the tired discomfort this record inspires. The fact is that when they drop the jaded misanthropy—scratch that, when they throw out their whole tired-before-conceived shtick—Hot Chip shows promise. “Baby Said” chain-straps itself into a robotic groove and a gorgeous wind-drawn chorus that reminds of the best of Mason and the Betas, while “One on One” fingertips soft-carpet xylophones and white electronic noises into a daytime bedroom lament. In a better pop world than that offered us all, these might serve the Sugar-Ray summer to our poolside burn. In our own, they’re sticky reminders that Hot Chip may be talented, but though we flirt with his notoriety, we all turn our back on the class clown eventually.