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CD of The Week

Week of 7/08/19

    Hot Chip - A Bath Full of Ecstasy (Domino)

    Hot Chip have always done a good job of laying their intentions behind each album bare with their titles. From the soulful, smirking riffs on Prince that smacked you over the head on their debut Coming On Strong through their odes to the longevity of love on their arguably high watermark One Life Stand, we've always more or less known what we were going to get from this band when we started listening. That expectation started to go macro with 2015's Why Make Sense? By then, this was a band with an established sound that continued to deliver that sound, quite well at that. 

    Which brings us to their newest offering. A Bath Full of Ecstasy is as evocative a title as it gets, particularly in the realm of electronic and dance music. Hence, it's a bit of a surprise to hit play on this one and hear songs less bothered with ecstatic release than existential ruminations. That said, a closer read, and listen, reveal an effort that more than delivers. These are songs and sounds to be immersed in that offer a more patient but no less potent form of catharsis.

    It begins with something once thought unthinkable on a Hot Chip album opener. "Melody of Love" chimes to life at first with spare, melancholy piano keys that wouldn't sound out of place on the most recent Sharon Van Etten album. As those keys seamlessly transform into synths, singer Alexis Taylor asks whether it's possible to make space for love (or any feeling at all) in a world that has only made it harder to do such a thing. The song blossoms to life underneath as if to answer that question, becoming that titular resonating melody in less than five minutes.

    It's a pristine exercise in blending complicated lyrical concerns with a calculated musical climax that extends across the remaining eight tracks, and it's an exercise that clearly required some spotters ("Melody" alone was cut down from a nearly 12-minute demo, allegedly). Ecstasy is the first Hot Chip album to feature outside producers and the band chose wisely in the xx cohort Rodaidh McDonald and the recently, tragically deceased Philippe Zdar of Cassius. Both producers know their way around subtle, supple dance music and their touch clearly helped the band not only sharpen some heady ideas into more digestible packages but also learn to reference and revere their own catalog with the same respect that they've done with others. "Spell" asks someone to "give me your lust" with the same poise and percussion as One Life Stand-out "Hand Me Down Your Love", while single "Hungry Child" may be their most perfect balance of pensive and propulsive since "And I Was a Boy From School".

    Like many a good "trips", A Bath Full of Ecstasy feels at once infinite and succinct. It's easy to get lost in, but just as easy to listen to while finding one's way through to the end. It finds Hot Chip continuing to age and mature much more gracefully than many of their mid-aughts contemporaries. The bath may be a bit more chilled than past peaks, but it's no less comforting. Bottom line: Hop in. The water's still nice.

    Hot Chip returns to Philadelphia at Union Transfer on Sunday, September 8th.

    Review by Rob Huff

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