- On the MTV show MADE, the biggest nerd in high school is transformed into something ”cool” like a breakdancer, a skateboarder or, um, a triathlete. These kids are following the American dream of becoming popular by fitting in, and only ever make short-term social gains. Their peers may applaud when Snoop Doggy Dweeb “smokes” the school champ in a rap battle, but as soon as they file out of the sports hall they are bitching: “Oh my god, what was he thinking?” The real winners are those who learn that the people that matter love them just the way they are—comics, unicorn sweaters and all.
The soundtrack to these rare moments of clarity is uplifting college rock, but it should be ‘And I Was A Boy From School’ by Hot Chip. Hot Chip look like chess club members that asked to be “made” into pop stars, and their nerd anthem is a celebration of—you guessed it—not fitting in. The irony is that tracks like this and ‘Over & Over’ brought the band of misfits chart success and a cult following in hip East London, where their bespectacled fans swarm the streets in shellsuits. So how do Alexis Taylor and co deal with the geek chic trend threatening to drag them into the mainstream? They decide to sort the poindexters from the pretenders and GET WEIRD.
Made In The Dark is Hot Chip’s most self-consciously nerdy album yet. It doesn’t have the inclusive let’s-all-get-geek vibe of, say, ‘Over & Over’ and relies instead on worn stereotypes to set its producers apart as true purveyors of uncool cool. The thought of a “monkey with a miniature cymbal” makes everyone smile, but it’s hard to work up the same enthusiasm for ‘Wrestlers’ or action figures (on the ‘Showroom Dummies’ update ‘Bendable Poseable’). Alienating subject matter aside, these tracks contain deliberately bad raps that form another key component of the band’s dweeb aesthetic: annoying vocal tics. All the looping, reversal and pitch-bending of their voices may be clever, but it brings nothing to songs like ‘Ready For The Floor’, where the stuttered “number number one one”s make for a less-than-hilarious parody of people’s high hopes for the single.
As well as affected speech impediments, Hot Chip put another barrier between themselves and the listener—their fascination with the process of recording above the results. The prolonged organ wind-up that opens Make in the Dark is like a joke with no punchline, and the sampled Todd Rundgren schtick that cuts dead ‘Shake A Fist’, for a game of “sounds of the studio” says it all: the band obviously had more fun making the album than we do listening to it.
But like all nerds, when Hot Chip stop showing off, they reveal themselves to be real people with real emotions like you or me. Occasionally this happens in the space of one song, like when 'Wrestlers' switches from Bontempi R&B to a drone ballad in the vein of The Postal Service. Tortured couplets like "I've learnt all I know from watching the wrestlin'/I think you think I'm about to throw the towel in" may be dripping with irony, but the straight-faced delivery makes you wonder if they aren’t a metaphor for something else, something more. And despite the near-naffness of 'We're Looking For A Lot Of Love', with its pastoral organ, twee "wo oh a-oh"s and walking-in-the-rain imagery, its genuine warmth lends a certain pathos to the line "you're everything that I never could keep". As the album develops, the band slowly open up, borrowing New Order’s frankness for ‘Touch Too Much’ and exhibiting genuine feeling on the plaintive piano-led title track and ‘Whistle For Will’, until they finally bear all on 'In The Privacy Of Our Love'.
With Made In The Dark, Hot Chip say it loud: they're geek and they're proud. At times that's all they're saying. The band are infinitely more interesting when they drop the clever-clever act and make a real human connection, so let's hope for more from the men behind the nerds in future.
01 Out at the Pictures
02 Shake a Fist
03 Ready for the Floor
04 Bendable Poseable
05 We're Looking for a Lot of Love
06 Touch Too Much
07 Made in the Dark
08 One Pure Thought
09 Hold On
11 Don't Dance
12 Whistle for Will
13 In the Privacy of Our Love