Hot Chip began their acclaimed 2004 debut Coming On Strong with heartfelt advice and a warning, “Take care into the home”, before taking you for a musical ride around their own. They begin their astonishing sophomore record with a different kind of warning: “FIRE IS HOT, STEEL CAN CUT /GLASS WILL BREAK IF YOU’RE NOT …CAREFUL!”…Triumphant and gloopy synths begin the frenetic and bewildering ‘Careful’, giving way to rave rhythms, war drums, syrupy vocals, computed crowd chants and a song celebrating balloons and physical intimacy; the frenetic opening minutes of this truly adventurous record.
‘Careful’ cuts through the listener and represents a more confrontational sound for Hot Chip, usually found only in their visceral live show. The confrontation is echoed throughout the rest of the album, whose musical inventiveness almost pokes fun at the caution in the lyrics. Joe Goddard explains: “The completion of ‘Careful’ was a major turning point in the process of making this album. I wanted it be a real departure from the first album, but Alexis and I were worried that the music we wanted to make was incompatible. Once we’d managed to complete this track together, though, it re-affirmed our belief that we could find common ground.”
Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard began to work on the album in earnest. Out of the tension of these sessions, with the two songwriters / producers pulling against one another, there eventually emerged some great moments of beauty, laughter, love and slaughter. Where one man cannot talk of his pain, another can record it. And then fuck with it. Then you get Owen in to mash into the guitar like nobody else. And while Felix is pushing synthesizers through a ‘Machinedrum’, quick, record him while he’s not looking, and Al can come over all Eno/Manzanera – he’s got nimble fingers and vocal chords. It’ll work, don’t worry. This became Hot Chip’s ‘creative process’. And it really did work. But be careful, it’s crazy in there…
The Warning is an amalgamation of great songwriting and forward-thinking pop-production. It’s an honest record – emotionally and sonically, made by people exploring sound in the warmth of home, not studio, and it is a brittle pairing of voices which sing of LOVE, COLOURS, LOSS, and WARNINGS. It is the only record you will hear this year, which is brave enough to try and better all of the best records of yesteryear and tomorrow. If you want something which evokes the textures of Aphex Twin recordings, Madlib’s sense of deranged hip-hop holiday, the intimacy of Prince’s fantastically claustrophobic parades, and more than merely the spirit of certain wonderful Paul McCartney experiments in disco (watch out EMI…), Hot Chip would recommend The Warning. It’s cheaper than buying the Richard D James Album, Madvillainy, Dirty Mind and McCartney II after all.
Of the title track, Joe explains: “‘The Warning’ comes from a real love of 2-step garage rhythms and melodies…the rhythmic devices used in programming garage appear everywhere in Hot Chip, and I still find some garage records to be amongst the funkiest and most soulful. ”While ‘The Warning’ insists that “Hot Chip will break your legs, snap off your head” over a luxurious garage beat, ‘Look After Me’ speaks plainly of the growing distance between a couple, and acknowledges vulnerability and the need for unequivocal support between two people. Alexis: “Ever since seeing it on The Box in the late 90s I had been hooked on Sparkle’s duet with R Kelly, ‘Be Careful’. Eventually I tried to rip off the chord structure, melody and mood to make the beginnings of ‘Look After Me’. For the middle-eight section’s descending chord progression I mimicked the synth-line in Prince’s ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ almost note for note. Joe heard what I thought was a take on the modern r’n’b ballad to be more in keeping with an old-fashioned soul classic of the Al Green ilk, and we were soon adding plucked live violins and very soft drumming.”
Somewhere between these unspoken ideas emerges an incredibly personal Hot Chip song, tying the record together at the centre and underpinning the album’s mood of caution and warning. But it’s also a song that openly borrows from other records in an attempt to make something new, encapsulating the duality of the Hot Chip sound, at once very “felt”, and very considered.
The bathos of Coming On Strong is more often than not replaced by pathos in The Warning. ‘And I Was A Boy From School’, a beautifully melancholy ballad of loss and acceptance, is Hot Chip’s greatest pop moment so far – wonderful in its simplicity; heartbreaking in its honesty: “ We tried, but we didn’t have long, We tried but we didn’t belong…”. But ‘Boy From School’ began life as a Casio waltz, before looking towards the spirit of Giorgio Moroder. Joe explains: “’I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer was in my mind. I thought if you could combine that rhythmical power with a beautiful chorus then you could make a dance record that would be much better than most. In fact, the sound of the song is still very gentle, and though I now realize that that is something to be proud of, back then I wanted to compete with people like the DFA.”
One of the most unusual aspects of ‘Boy From School’, and Hot Chip in general, is the direct contrasting of vocal styles, Alexis often taking the higher ‘female’ lead, and Joe the lower, ‘male’ response, in a world which recalls the classic soul or country and western duets of the past, but is clearly somewhere stranger altogether. And rather than rich harmonies, they create a denser texture, singing in direct unison, leaving the harmony to the instruments; the effect is quite unique.
The androgynous and yearning tone in Alexis’ vocal performances, and the frailty and primitivism in certain drum sounds, have reminded some listeners of Scritti Politti or the Young Marble Giants, as much as the R Kelly or Wookie tracks that inspire some of the music. The space between conception and realisation is where you find Hot Chip; and it’s what makes them so distinctive, so fascinating. That and the fact that they are happy to leave imperfections in: “The idea of including the inaccuracies that occur when people play instruments in the song is extremely important to us. It is the antithesis of a lot of modern record productions, where every mistake is ironed out digitally. When I think about the producers and songs that I really cherish, I think that certain rash decisions or mistakes in the playing or mixing are often the very things that I love.”
Hot Chip have made quite a leap with The Warning, in terms of sophistication and clarity. A deliberately simple tune and lyric, such as ‘Colours’, transcends its initial child-like innocence to seem gorgeous and, somehow, profound. “I wanted to write lyrics as direct as the ones you’d find in Kraftwerk songs. We’d just seen them at Brixton Academy and I was struck by how well they said something about motion or light, or radioactivity, in so few words.” (Alexis) “For a while I wanted this album to sound a lot like Can or Neu – I wanted the propulsive force of the song to be powerful but seem effortless and for the keyboard sounds to be glistening and beautifully sculpted, in the way that Kraftwerk make their instruments sound. We were after simplicity and directness.” (Joe)
When Hot Chip started their album with a chorus that confides: “The stories you told were awful /I hope that they weren’t just artful, /I hope that you will be careful”, you would be forgiven for thinking they could be writing about their own music, giving you a new warning. People have often mistaken what is at times an opaque, and other times a transparent honesty for something more sinister or ‘artful’ (God forbid, a sense of humour !), and the irony of this is not lost on the songwriters. But that is Hot Chip in a nutshell: musical perverts who know how to tease you just right, who are tender when you are just getting used to their brashness and confidence.
As ‘The Warning’ says, ‘LET ME SPELL IT OUT FOR YOU’. This time round, you may be able to tell that Hot Chip’s tongues are deeper inside your cheeks than they are embedded in their own.
Hot Chip also play live, they have toured with people like LCD Soundsystem, Mylo, Stereolab & recently Goldfrapp and played their own shows/tours too of course. They will be doing stuff like that all year.
The Warning was recorded by Hot Chip at home.