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CD of The Week

Week of 8/29/22

    Hot Chip - Freakout/Release (Domino)

    However accidental, Hot Chip proved a touch prescient with their 2019 album A Bath Full of Ecstasy. Immersive and introspective, it ended up predicting the forced vibe shift of COVID while also summarizing the band's sonic progression to date. Sure, everyone can appreciate a nice bath, but baths are also, in their own way, a kind of stasis. This was a band whose music, if anything, used to emulate water slides: Splashy, twisty, and unpredictable in feeling if not structure. The band seems to have recognized that it was time to get out of the tub. Freakout/Release sees them returning to the scrappy spirit of their '00s records while continuing to refine the strengths they picked up as they continued to evolve in the '10s.

    This approach is apparent out the gate with opener and lead single "Down.” Anchored by a sample from the cult funk collective Universal Togetherness Band, it punches harder than anything the band has recorded in at least a decade while its lyrics explore the romantic restlessness of its narrator. That restlessness goes beyond the bedroom with the even better title track, as Alexis Taylor confesses a growing dissatisfaction with the art and career that have become his life: "Music used to be escape" he opines over the same kind of mischievous synths and beats that dominated 2008 breakthrough album Made in the Dark before lamenting "Now I can't escape it. I feel trapped in the world." Whether he means his own world or the world at large during lockdown is debatable but instantly relatable, and it's hard not to join in with the song's robotic refrain to conjure the catharsis teased in the title.

    That catharsis, and indeed freakout, comes midway through via warped guitar chaos that captures the band's live wiliness better than arguably anything they've ever done. That lightning in a bottle could perhaps be attributed to the whole band finally recording an entire album together in one place, but that particular oomph even carries over to the songs that sound more descended from their post-One Life Stand mutation into maturity. The mid-album trifecta of "Broken", "Not Alone", and "Hard To Be Funky" could all fit seamlessly among that record's more measured and majestic standouts, in fact, while their titles and lyrics succinctly summarize what way too many of us are still feeling and craving as whatever the latest variant is reminds us that we still need to tread tentatively amongst each other.

    Beyond that, we get the usual dependable Joe Goddard-centric standouts in "Time" and "Miss the Bliss," which carry over some of the production bravado heard in his recent work with HARD FEELINGS and Ibibio Sound Machine. That bravado continues in the closing couplet of "Guilty" and "Out Of My Depth", which already make a case for being their strongest album climax Hot Chip have pulled off to date. The latter track conveys a sentiment of resolve as Taylor reminds us that "when I'm in my darkest place, I must be careful not to dwell there." After beginning to dwell in the complacent consistency of elder statesmanship with their previous two records, Hot Chip prove capable of testing the waters of dance music again with Freakout/Release, not just treading them.

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    Review by Rob Huff

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