Noise 101: CD Reviews for Feb 11 Reflector
By Sean-Paul Boynton
When the Pet Shop Boys released their album Behaviour at the dawn of the 1990s, it was clear that the preeminent disco kings were no longer content on making us feel happy on the dancefloor. Not that the group made necessarily happy music – singer Neil Tennant was already one of the gloomiest lyricists around – but the dance-pop sheen of their songs made us forget about Tennant’s woes and head for the floor to shake our hips with merry abandon.
Behaviour, however, stripped away the gloss, left some open spaces and revealed a moody duo with much to say about the human condition. It eventually became their most celebrated record, with many critics saying it’s the truest of all their albums:
“If you want to know what the Pet Shop Boys are really about,” they still say, “you need to start with Behaviour.”
Twenty years later, at the dawn of the 2010s, Hot Chip has released One Life Stand. The parallels are almost creepy between this release and the Pet Shop Boys’ masterpiece: both are the fourth albums in their respective discographies, both were released on EMI Records, and both demonstrate sharp snaps into focus, a shedding of distracting eccentricities and a deeper commitment to crafting an album, rather than a collection of songs.
Both records also lay bare the intentions
of the artist in question. In the Pet Shop Boys’ case, with the music taken down to the level of the lyrics, Tennant was able to address issues that mattered to him with a new sense of purpose, since people would now be able to hear what he had to say (no one would have been able to uncover the AIDS parable in “Being Boring” had it been set to the same clattering symphony as “West End Girls”).
For Hot Chip, the victories made here are more subtle but no less seismic. They have toned down the various eccentricities
that admittedly made 2008’s Made In The Dark such an exciting listen, yet have retained and furthered their singularly
eccentric core element: a manic yet calmly confident mix of lovelorn R&B and twitchy new wave electro-pop. In doing so, they sound like a band that has finally found their key sound, and have found a way to create a set of songs that stays on that path.
Thus, One Life Stand is their most consistent
record to date and therefore their best, but not just because of the musical focus. Once again like the Pet Shop Boys, by bringing the music down to the root, the words and emotions are made clearer and what’s uncovered is a sensitive band that sings about the joys and merits of monogamous love and devotion.
This is a risky lyrical road to travel, and with everyone questioning every band that comes along for being calculating in their lyrics, it’s not too far off to think that Hot Chip may come under fire for being so sensitive. But One Life Stand is simply too beautiful in its construction and execution to make room for such mutinous thoughts: each and every note wears its heart on its sleeve, and coupled with the to-the-point sincerity of the lyrics, it would take a cold, cold heart to question Hot Chip’s motivations here.
Like any great dance album, One Life Stand understands dynamics, and flows like a great night at the indie club: ups, downs, laughs, tears, joys, regrets. Opener “Thieves In the Night” is so precise as to when and where each new layer is added that by the time we’re caught in its middle-eight maelstrom, we’re too exuberant that we’re along for the ride to even notice how we got there. The first few songs sound like immaculate
New Order leftovers, and even the title track’s clattering percussion recalls “Blue Monday” in its calculated randomness. However, there are also comedowns that don’t necessarily trip up the pacing, but provide a calm before the next storm. “Slush” is a beautiful wonder in that it’s just as relentless as the more dance-heavy tracks without raising its voice, and ends up being more claustrophobic
and head-spinning than if it had been set to a beat.
The only difference between One Life Stand and Behaviour is that, by the time of their fourth album, the Pet Shop Boys had already sealed their place in the history books with their first two, and had already released their best-ever single; Behaviour was simply icing on their delicious cake of a career that only continued. Even if Hot Chip doesn’t stand the test of time, they can rest assured that One Life Stand marks a new high for this extremely creative group. Maybe they’ll get better, but if they decide to pursue that one true love and lock their instruments away, they’ve done enough for any other group to be envious.
More tracks on the racks
I love a good bangin’ beat and dope gangsta flow, but Rebirth only brought out sadness and confusion. It seems as if Lil Wayne was reborn as – wait for it – a rock star. Sadness bubbles up as I weep for hip-hop and rock music, two genres awkwardly mashed together. If you love hip-hop and listen to this album, your tears will mingle with mine. Eminem’s verse on “Drop the World” made me remember why I love rap, and I found myself searching for profanity and verses about shoes. Lil Wayne, please bring back hip-hop and let us hear your real voice.
If romance is boring, then Los Campesinos! has some explaining to do about why they’re so damn excited and exciting. On their third album proper, the English troupe expands their horizons while still bringing on the
abrasive, the chaotic, and the stingingly
funny. “I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock,” sings Gareth in “Straight In at 101,” and it’s hard not to argue with his pleas. However, if post-rock sounds anything like this, it may be a smart move to follow this gang wherever they want to go. Don’t be fooled by the blood on the cover; this is joyous,
hilarious noise-pop of the highest order.
Known for their richly textured, unconventional musical arrangements, anticipation for Massive Attack’s newest release has been high. If you were looking for a recycling of their old work, however, you might leave disappointed. Heligoland is a stripped-down project that sees the elimination of the group’s trademark sweeping orchestral compositions, relying on vocal contributions from recognizable artists such as Damon Albarn and Tunde Adebimpe. Old Massive Attack fans might be put off by the album’s simplistic approach, although Heligoland’s digestibility and star power will manage to entice new supporters.
Erykah Badu Various tracks
This Afro-Queen sorcer¬ess is, without a doubt, the sexiest and most original female work¬ing in modern R&B, so anticipation for her new album has been high. These two new tracks won’t disappoint the faithful: “Jump In the Air” is a sleepy bumper featuring Lil’ Wayne, while “Window Seat” with the Roots’ Questlove is a typical – yet still completely awesome – ballad that still knows how to make those hips shake.