Every artist faces a point where they must decide where to take themselves artistically if they want to continue to grow in popularity. Frequently this means deciding between trucking forward with your integrity intact or “selling out” and conforming to the conventions that are popular at the time, and some bands handle this moment poorly and choose the option that goes against the spirit of their music’s original intent. But electro-pop fivesome Hot Chip have risen to the occasion for their fourth release One Life Stand, and approached the matter with a trajectory of growth that has culminated into a strong middle ground between artistic integrity and mass acceptance. It’s an offering that is sure to please new fans and regulars alike while only occasionally offending their purists.
Nothing is missing from this release that was present on earlier ones and it’s rather that more has been added, often for the better. Front-man Joe Goddard’s vocals still shine through and compliment the nerd-vibe and the combination of instrument and electronic has only slightly given way to the latter, but it ultimately represents a greater balance than their previous album Made in the Dark offered. A stronger kick drives many tracks as well and there’s even a growing respect for the bass that is greatly appreciated, leading to a couple of rousing songs that’ll get your feet moving as much as your head.
“One Life Stand” and “I Feel Better” perhaps best represent what Hot Chip has learned over the years and part of that is that they like hooks, and they like ‘em a lot. So you don’t get just a more experienced band but a catchier set as well. And if it’s not your cup of tea then “Hand Me Down Your Love” offers a rawer equivalent sans the sometimes overbearing pop mentality of the other two, without sacrificing the candid nature of the band’s music. The same can be said for “Take It In” which finishes the record with a dependable rhythm that’s sure to end your listening experience with satisfaction.
Where the evolution of their style falters, however, is in its sometimes patronizing tendency to cater to the pop mentality no doubt intended to bring the group a larger audience. “I Feel Better” exemplifies this notion but it’s fun so it can be forgiven, yet it almost hurts to hear meaningless filler like “Brothers” and to a lesser extent “Slush”, which for some may just redeem itself through the appreciable qualities it shares with ballads from your grandmother’s generation. “Keep Quiet” almost convinces you to listen to something else it’s so unfocused and cluttered, and it’s hard to believe this track comes from the same highly produced band you’ve been listening to eight songs prior.
But “We Have Love” shows you why you loved Hot Chip in the first place, and why you will continue to love them in the future. Not only does it have the gradual build they’ve established as “theirs” by three previous releases (as does every other track on this release), it also masterfully combines their style with the critical elements that makes pop popular. Hooks galore, a powerful rhythmic ascension that almost lifts you out of your seat, and a danceable groove that’s likely to also appeal to fans of only slightly-related genres.
Overall, One Life Stand shows that Hot Chip has only been learning with time and while there is the occasional jarring setback, the album itself flows gracefully within its own context. Arguably little is lost for those who’ve been loyal from the start and much has been gained from the band’s growing mastery of their own style. It’s to be seen if their next offering continues this pattern of growth or sends then spilling over the edge into conventional mediocrity, but considering the escalating competency with their own method, it’s likely Hot Chip will continue to fruit and stand out in a genre that can sometimes seem awfully conformist. Score: 4/5