- The UK dance pop group's seventh album delivers a powerful high, with a message.
- On Hot Chip's seventh album, the UK band explore a tug-of-war that will be familiar to many of us in this modern moment: one between engaging and escaping. They do this through contradictions. A Bath Full Of Ecstasy connects with political, economic and existential themes. "Escapism is the opposite of what we should be doing in our lives, for political and ecological reasons," Alexis Taylor, the band's lead singer, recently told The Guardian. But, on the other hand, well—the album is called A Bath Full Of Ecstasy. Its cover, designed by Jeremy Deller and Fraser Muggeridge, is a psychedelic mirage that evokes altered states of consciousness. Its songs, like some of the best Hot Chip music, are colourful flights that soar beyond dance floors.
Impressively, though, there's no dissonance in these contradictions. Hot Chip seem to be saying that black-and-white thinking won't help us. We can engage politically and still sound like we're having a decent time; this is music created from a place of celebration rather than fear. When Alexis Taylor sings a poignant line about homelessness on "Positive"—"You're washed up and you're hated / You've lied, you're berated"—he does so over snappy beats and rave-ready synths. On "Melody Of Love," another standout, he asks, "Do you have faith to feel in this world?," while the track's arrangement bursts forth like a dawn. The doleful drum-machine pattern and strings on "Clear Blue Skies" is a more obvious counterpart to Joe Goddard's existential reflection—"What does it matter? ...In a universe of almost infinite size"—but it's still a track with a streak of sweetness, a feature of Hot Chip's music that hasn't dimmed almost 20 years since they formed.
These past two decades also haven't diluted their sense of adventure and vigour, which are expressed here through a long-standing blueprint of dance-pop hybrids. They collaborate with external producers for the first time, showing an ongoing appetite for development. Rodaidh McDonald, who works with The xx, is credited on five of the nine songs, while the celebrated French producer Philippe Zdar, who tragically died this month, is also credited on five, including "Echo," which uses empty space to superb effect. Tracks like "Hungry Child" and "No God" are huge, highly focussed anthems that would boss a festival stage.
For all of the album's welcome contradictions, however, this focus does hold it back a little. On 2010's One Life Stand, for my money their best album, and 2006's The Warning, their excellent breakout record, Hot Chip were a band who ducked and dived, bobbed and weaved. The choruses often felt so dazzling and powerful because the verses were so dark and sneaky, or vice versa. Guitar and piano played more prominent roles, creating a richness to their productions that refreshed the ears. A Bath Full Of Ecstasy doesn't often deal in subterfuge. It shines brightly and earnestly throughout, and it's willing to come to you. By the arrival of "No God," the album's closer, you may be left with some serotonin depletion. But at the right time, in the right company or on the right dance floor, it's a powerful high that also has a message.
01. Melody Of Love
03. Bath Full Of Ecstasy
05. Hungry Child
07. Why Does My Mind
08. Clear Blue Skies
09. No God