Hot Chip release their accidental homage to the barren wasteland of ’80s synthpop.
London synthpop group Hot Chip starts off In Our Heads, their fifth studio album, at the top of their game. “Motion Sickness” combines typically sleek synths with pompous horn blasts, ambient vocal backing, and restrained percussion to create a dizzying soundscape for Alexis Taylor to spin nervous thoughts on the world. Non-sequiturs like “remember when people thought the world was round” and abstract lines such as “everything spins off my head” match the music perfectly to create an idea of 21st century paranoia. Yeah, “Motion Sickness” is a brilliant and catchy song that has meaning, purpose, and maturity to it. Unfortunately, following this opener, quality free falls and the remaining ten songs of the album prove themselves to be trite, mindless, unabashedly retro, and completely devoid of the direction and innovation that makes the opening track so great.
“How Do You Do?” and “Don’t Deny Your Heart” kick off the album in a more honest sense by attempting to revive horrid ‘80s synthpop for their own sarcastic purposes, but ending up sounding more depraved than the original source material. Lead single “Night and Day” starts off with an Aphex Twin sounding bass groove, but quickly devolves into a quasi 2-step dirge that, yet again, tries to satire the club scene, but ultimately fails with one-line headaches such as “let’s sweat” and “you’ve got me working night and day”. Similarly, “Flutes” starts off with promise as a children’s choir backs Hot Chip’s standard synth work to create a mellow, nighttime mood. However, When Taylor enters again to sing, the mood is killed and, yes, the track just sounds like an ‘80s synthpop track raised from the dead. Overall, Hot Chip tries to pull the same bullshit that acts such as Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Yuck, Girls; they try to go retro, and they fail miserably.
The mindset of trying to revive a retro sound seems utterly bonkers to me. If you are a “serious” artist, then why would you want to sound like a group or an era with a defunct sound? Some artists do succeed in making their retro sound enjoyable to listen to, such as Yuck who, while their sound has no originality, successfully revives ‘90s nostalgia with well-written lo-fi rock anthems. However, artists mostly fail in this endeavor, and In Our Heads is a prime example of this type of failure. Listening to this groan-inducing album is not only challenging, but also depressing when you realize that synthpop acts such as Kraftwerk are more relevant to today’s alternative world than the throwback drivel Hot Chip has released. Synthpop does not always need to sound ridiculously retro; in fact, acts such as Gang Gang Dance, Zola Jesus, The Knife, Metric, and Passion Pit all manage their own unique brands of synthpop while limiting their use of previously-defined sounds and trends. However, Hot Chip has seemingly gotten comfortable in their fame and decided that actively attempting to break new ground is just so not worth it. In Our Heads is an amazing exercise in lazy songwriting and unfound self-importance.
In Our Heads was released by Domino Records on June 6th, 2012.