With Why Make Sense?, Hot Chip channel the wisdom of experience
My earliest memories of Hot Chip are on the dancefloor. The place was Common People, circa mid-2000s. It was a scungy Brisbane nightclub for hipsters before that term had become the nebulous pejorative it is now, the descendant of the Depot and the ancestor of a string of replacements (Gossip, Magazine, others). Common People only existed on Saturday nights, on the top floor of a venue used as a topless bar on the weekdays. A venue defined by sticky floors and low ceilings and no air conditioning and ‘vintage’ furniture surely accumulated from the cheapest corner of the local Lifeline. It was here that I was swallowed into the darkness of the dancefloor and the pulse of “Over and Over”, a playful, hard-edged dance track that perfectly, indescribably captured that moment of my life.
Stomping around that same dancefloor, swirling in a haze of sweat and alcohol fumes, was the woman I would marry. I hadn’t met her yet, and I wouldn’t meet her until New Years Eve, 2007, becoming entangled in an intended one-night stand that lasted a whole lot longer than one night. When I proposed to her – five years to the day after we met, in a Port Douglas hotel – Hot Chip played a part, as I asked her to be my “one life stand”. That song – the title track of the group’s fourth studio album – summed up the beautiful purity of choosing to share the dancefloor with someone for a night and your life; it was a warm, danceable ode to monogamy. It was the first song we danced to as a married couple.
Hot Chip grew up with us. Their early work – combining aggression with intelligence, thick with the nostalgic haze of fleeting friendships and moments passing into yesterday – captured the feeling of my mid-twenties. Their subsequent albums – One Life Stand and In Our Heads – were recorded by a band moving into their thirties, having children, and inherited that sense of warmth and trepidation alike: the melancholic joy of watching your childhood recede and your adulthood loom.
I didn’t listen to Hot Chip’s sixth, and latest, album on the dancefloor, but on the couch next to my wife. Written by a band whose members approach their mid-thirties, Why Make Sense? sounds like a record of our lives yet to come. One Life Stand and In Our Head were each headlined by some standout songs – “One Life Stand,” “Hand Me Down Your Love”, “Motion Sickness”, “Night & Day” – but lacked the consistency of their earlier records. That inconsistency seems inevitable – a consequence of the challenges of balancing the sublime pleasures of the dancefloor with the responsibilities of fatherhood (both Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard went into the recording booths in 2010 with young children). Unlike those albums, Why Make Sense? feels more mature, more balanced, more consistent. Perhaps it lacks a single track as good as those mentioned before, but it has a completeness their past two albums lacked.
Very much in the vein of the sentiments expressed in “One Life Stand”, Why Make Sense? is an ode to love in adulthood; parental love and complicated love and committed love. Not the hot rush of young love – the heat of the dancefloor, the electricity of the first embrace – that dominates modern pop music, but a multifaceted, mature love. This is adult contemporary music for a new generation (and that’s by no means an insult). In “Started Right”, Taylor sings “you make my heart feel like / it’s my brain”, which tosses aside the directness of most love songs for something deeper. Why Make Sense? is about negotiating safe spaces for devotion and intimacy. Per “Love is the Future”, “when I'm with you, what's real is out of mind / dreaming is binding, stay close to me as we redefine / (connection)”
Musically, Hot Chip aims for directness, eschewing overburdened layers of electronica for a stark simplicity. They draw from funk and hip hop, with a low-key danceiness that encourages gentle grooving rather than frenzied dancing. The appearance of guest vocalist Pos, from De La Soul, feels natural in these environs. It’s not a perfect album – “Dark Night” and to a lesser extent “So Much Further To Go” feel like outliers. Stylistic and lyrical deviations: less complete and less optimistic than the tracks that surround them. But it feels like the natural progression of the group’s sound; unambitious but not unappealing.
Still, it’s hard to separate the sentiments expressed here, and the sound of this album, from my own experiences. When I hear lyrics like these, from “Easy to Get”:
From the moment I saw you
From the note you first wept
There is something about you
I will never forget
Take a look in the mirror
Wipe away your regret
Look for me on the dance floor
Playing easy to get
Easy to get
… I’m not thinking critically, or analytically. I’m thinking of the haze of Common People’s dance floor, the stomp of my feet and the pulse of my heart, and the connection forged with my wife. It’s hard to collect these feelings into something coherent beyond their raw emotionality, but – per the album title – why make sense?