Review: Hot Chip – Made in the Dark

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Label: Astralwerks

Released: February 4, 2008

Chuck and I tried this once before with Out_Circuit’s Pierce the Empire with a Sound. It went well enough that we decided to take another shot at it with Hot Chip’s latest, Made in the Dark. Things definitely had a better flow this time and I was surprised at how well we fed off of each other’s thoughts. Anyway, without further ado, here’s what we thought of the Hot Chip album:

taotechuck: You ready?

bob_vinyl: Sure.

taotechuck: I’m pressing play.

bob_vinyl: The drone is promising.

taotechuck: Yes, it is. Although it reminds of ’80s arena rock. Like Aldo Nova or something. I’m waiting for a helicopter. Jee-zus. This sounds like the Knight Rider theme song.

bob_vinyl: Once the music kicks in, it’s a letdown. The way the drone builds leads me to expect an explosion and I don’t get that. This is like bad 80s pop filtered through hipster smugness. It doesn’t do much for me.

taotechuck: I completely agree.

bob_vinyl: Some of the craziness in the background is kinda cool, but overall the song never takes off.

taotechuck: When I worked on my high school newspaper in Albuquerque, I did a monthly column where I interviewed local bands. One of the cover bands I interviewed was bragging about how they would look for the hippest new songs and play them before anyone else did. They mentioned “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how awful the “cutting edge” music was that that rotten cover band was playing. This reminds me of a song that band would’ve covered.

bob_vinyl: “Shake a Fist” is like better 80s pop filtered through hipster smugness (and a bit of Beck).

taotechuck: “Sounds of the Studio?” Uh, more like, “Sounds of a self-important jackass.”

bob_vinyl: Yeah, the whole “sounds of the studio” thing isn’t clever, it’s just annoying. It reminds me of the skits that popped up on hip-hop albums 15 or so years ago.

taotechuck: Besides, didn’t Chemical Brothers make all these sounds like 10 years ago, and they weren’t very cutting edge then?

bob_vinyl: True. Hot Chip certainly seems to be impressed with themselves and perhaps that confidence (or over-confidence) has helped them sell themselves. I don’t mind being sold something, but I don’t like to find out that I bought something empty when I get it home. This is a step up from “Out at the Pictures” though.

taotechuck: Wow. You’re absolutely right. They do sound confident. They sound like they truly believe that they’re making great music. Which is weird, because I feel like I just took a great dump.

taotechuck: You know, I hated bad Depeche Mode knockoffs in 1987. “Ready for the Floor” is like that, but 20 years too late.

bob_vinyl: “Ready for the Floor” feels a little more natural to me and I like it. It’s not dark like Depeche Mode. This is less self-conscious than the previous tracks.

taotechuck: It’s got more of a hook than the previous songs. It reminds me of “Everything Counts,” which is not Depeche Mode’s finest moment. Oh, dear God, “Bendable Poseable.” Now we have Radiohead sandwiched with Depeche Mode, without the warmth or humanity of either band.

bob_vinyl: This doesn’t have the warmth or humanity of a rock. Now it’s back to being forced. Man, if this is their take on Radiohead, it’s a pretty pathetic one. Oh, I hope they’re not really trying to be Radiohead here.

taotechuck: It is forced. Do you hear what I mean, though? OK Computer era Radiohead?

bob_vinyl: Yeah, I hear it, I just hope they didn’t intend it.

taotechuck: It’s funny. On my first listen, I thought the production was pretty decent. The second time around, I find the production to be contrived and uninspired. Now we have the Pet Shop Boys with “We’re Looking For A Lot Of Love.” Great.

bob_vinyl: Any song with “love” in the title should have some kind of emotion or it’s an insult to love itself. They might be “looking,” but they aren’t getting much love tonight, huh?

taotechuck: They could come in here with a crisp 20 dollar bill and they still wouldn’t get my love.

bob_vinyl: I wonder what text book they used to learn this stuff.

taotechuck: You’re right. It is very by-the-books. It’s a lot like the hair metal bands who were trying to get big record deals by emulating Ratt and Dokken. But in this case, they’re emulating Boards of Canada and Air and maybe Stereolab’s suckiest moments. Hot Chip lacks nearly every element of great dance music. You mention love…the best dance music is all about love, and there is no love here. There was a word that was bandied about in the rave scene… plur. Peace Love Unity Respect. I don’t hear any of that in Hot Chip.

bob_vinyl: This just seems like stuff they recorded to be hip and not because it lives in their heart. “Touch Too Much” is another of the decent tracks. Again, it feels more natural than the majority of what they have offered here. When I first put this on, winamp played this song first for some reason. It seemed promising. This is at least a little bit organic.

taotechuck: I suppose, but coming after five derivative and sub-par songs, it’s hard for me to hear it with open ears. But… yeah, you’re right. The percussion in the background, the harmonies… there is something to it.

bob_vinyl: Now they’re doing Jackson Browne on “Made in the Dark.” I actually like this one too. There’s some emotion.

taotechuck: There’s nothing wrong with doing different styles, but this is completely out of place with everything else. And it’s not because it’s good. But if you heard this on an album of good songs, would you like it? Hmmm… maybe.

bob_vinyl: You’re right. If I liked the rest of the album, this would really throw me (in a bad way). I think this would be a good low-key break on a rock album.

taotechuck: The whole album reminds me of all the third-rate ’80s bands who were riding the coattails of the handful of innovative bands of that era. It’s possible that I hate Human League more than any other band, and this has all of the weaknesses of Human League. There’s no depth to it.

bob_vinyl: Ooooh, it’s the Fixx!

taotechuck: I thought the same thing! The Fixx!

taotechuck: Hey, now it’s New Order, with a bit of Rusted Root thrown in.

bob_vinyl: New Order? You’re generous. I was thinking BIlly Ocean. Actually, now the song got going, it’s not bad, because the reggae undertones make it fun.

taotechuck: It’s kind of fun, but it’s still in a very derivative way. That’s what’s killing me about these guys: I don’t hear a single thing that’s original. There’s nothing here that makes me say, “That’s Hot Chip!” This has all the uniqueness of Alphaville, or Information Society, or Human League, or the aforementioned Baltimora.

bob_vinyl: I think that’s because there’s very little of themselves here. They seem to be more interested in being the next big thing than they do in being their own thing.

taotechuck: This sounds like the kind of band that would have hung out at Studio 54 instead of Paradise Garage or The Loft. These guys are all style and no substance. Unfortunately, their style isn’t very interesting. I hate this. It doesn’t deserve my mercy. Being as we’re coming up on Good Friday and Easter, may I wax philosophical for a moment? This reminds me of the convenient Christianity that is preached at so many megachurches. It’s all about feeling good, but there’s very little capital-t Truth in it. I don’t want church to make me feel good. I want church to challenge me. I want church to call me out on my BS. I want church to point out my failures in a way that inspires me to be a better person. I have no problem with a sermon that is fun or lighthearted or makes me feel good, but there has to be substance. And I feel the same way about music. This music has no substance. It is empty. It is spiritually devoid.

bob_vinyl: Right. You have to believe that the preacher means it.

taotechuck: Absolutely. I don’t believe these guys. And that’s sad, because the greatest dance music — whether it’s by Kraftwerk or Larry Levan or Kerri Chandler — makes you believe what they’re preaching.

bob_vinyl: I wonder if we’d feel differently if we hadn’t lived through crap like this the first time? On “Hold On” they could have really bolstered it with with something that takes off the way “Don’t Leave Me This Way” or “Give Your Body Up to the Music” takes off. This is so wooden.

taotechuck: When he sings “I learned all I know from wrestling,” I believe him. Pro wrestling requires strength and skill, but it’s ultimately fake. It’s a show. Just like this.

bob_vinyl: “Wrestlers” at least isn’t trying to inspire. It’s lame, but its aspirations are lower so I can live with it more than “Hold On”.

taotechuck: Hey, wanna make a bet? Five bucks says Pitchfork gave this at least a 7.6. I promise I haven’t checked.

bob_vinyl: Okay, I’ll take the under.

taotechuck: Dang. Pitchfork gave it a 7.0. “Good record but not a great one.” I owe you five bucks.

bob_vinyl: “Don’t Dance” might be renamed “Don’t Dance Because This Isn’t Worth Dancing To”…but that would end with a prepostition so I guess that’s why they shortened it.

taotechuck: How about “Don’t Dance Because This Isn’t Worth Dancing To Because It Sucks”

bob_vinyl: Where were you when they were naming the songs?

taotechuck: Listening to something good.

bob_vinyl: “Whistle for Will” is another one that just sticks out like a sore thumb, but it’s not as good as “Made in the Dark.”

taotechuck: That’s true. And it’s not as if the vocals have anything particularly special. This is what Death Cab’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” would sound like if it weren’t charming.

bob_vinyl: I like this last song. It’s another one that doesn’t fit and it’s an odd choice to close the album with two oddball tracks. I really like the whoa-ohs in the backing vocals.

taotechuck: I agree. “In the Privacy of Our Love” is, hands down, the best song on the album. It’s got a doo-wop feel to it. In a really odd way, it reminds me of some of Shudder to Think’s stranger moments.

bob_vinyl: This crap at the end is just stupid. It was like, “Oh no, we have to have some kind of electronic crap at the very end.”

taotechuck: Indeed. Wow. So I sat through 12 songs I hated to get to one song that was good, but I’ll never play again.

bob_vinyl: If the whole album was this good, this conversation may have been a lot less fun.

taotechuck: Okay, here’s my rating: Satriani: Suck/10; Zappa: Suck/10; Dylan…Okay, joke’s old.

bob_vinyl: I think the album as a whole is one of the most self-conscious I’ve ever heard and that’s fundamentally what killed it.
Satriani 6/10
Zappa 1/10
Dylan 4/10
Aretha 2/10
Overall 3/10

Satriani: 6/10
Zappa: 2/10
Dylan: 3/10
Aretha: 1/10
Overall: 2/10

bob_vinyl: I had given it Aretha 1/10 too, but it got a full extra point for the last song.

taotechuck: I thought about doing that, but the pain and suffering I’m feeling wasn’t alleviated by “Privacy.”



If you’re curious about my rating categories, read the description.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

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