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Hot Chip
In Our Heads Josh Hall , June 12th, 2012 11:04

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Somehow, without anyone noticing, Hot Chip have been canonised. They have attained the enviable position of widely appreciated curios, part of an apparent tradition of mild English eccentricity. For many listeners they are the Devo we never had; a band that are, according to a recent piece in The Guardian, on their way to becoming "one of the great British pop groups."

Since 2010's One Life Stand Hot Chip's members have been pursuing their own projects. Alexis Taylor has helmed the fascinating semi-improv About Group, while Joe Goddard has further embraced the dancefloor by way of the charming 2 Bears and the world-conquering 'Gabriel'. In the publicity around their fifth album, then, there is a sense of heroes' return; of getting the old crew back together for one last job.

They needn't have bothered. In Our Heads is the work of a band fresh out of ideas. It is the sort of record on which four-minute songs feel interminable; a record so half-hearted that it sounds like it was constructed with one hand while the band were doing other, more important things, like making toast or checking the football score. A record, in fact, for which it may be necessary to invent new synonyms for 'boring'.

Let's start with the positives - because there are a handful. Opener 'Motion Sickness' begins in the vein of a Music For 18 Musicians offcut, with almost-human pulses sitting atop fidgety percussion and hollow, wooden keys. It is a small-screen opening that soon gives way to something more expansive: a grin-inducing pop song full of Mad Decent horns and melodies as hooky as any the band have written.

Meanwhile at the tail end of the record 'Ends Of The Earth' shapeshifts with real fluency between the sort of cheap fantasy sound one imagines is favoured by people who wear Three Woolf Moon t-shirts without irony, and a genuinely brilliant technicolour refrain. The real jewel, though, is 'Flutes', a rare moment of texture in an otherwise thoroughly one-dimensional set. Its vocal samples come on like a skipping CD of American schoolyard chants, tripping over one another, one minute on the grid and the next hovering either side of it. And that melody, on which Taylor sounds unusually composed, uncharacteristically vehement; it is the record's central plank, the beam around which they almost threaten to build something interesting.

But three good tracks do not an album make - and, unfortunately, this is the sum of the worthwhile moments on In Our Heads. Elsewhere the album is pure drudgery, remarkable only in its dullness. There is not a single original idea outside those three songs. Instead the band scrabble through a collection of suitably on-trend motifs, trying to construct a record from little bits of others.

At their best, the remaining tracks on In Our Heads sound like self-plagiarism. 'Night And Day' is essentially a toothless rendition of 'Gabriel', its brash, tuberous bass causing pangs of nostalgia for the halcyon days of August 2011, back when Joe Goddard was fun. The spoken word section, just embarrassing enough to cause a slight twitch of the eye, could have been lifted straight from The 2 Bears' Be Strong - and from the evidence here, it seems that comedy monologues are best left to Goddard's comrade-in-Bears Raf Rundell.

Elsewhere 'These Chains' seems plucked from the poppier outskirts of the deserted-industrial-estate 2-step sound that is currently so in vogue, its shuffling percussion seemingly having travelled to the studio on the top deck of the N12. 'Don't Deny Your Heart' was clearly found buried under some cardboard outside the Dirty Dancing studios, and 'Now There Is Nothing' belongs in the sort of West End musical that closes, unnoticed, halfway through its run. It's like a lucky dip in which the only mystery is the specific subgenre of tedium to which you will be subjected.

Long gone is the quiet oddness of their previous work. On their first couple of albums Hot Chip seemed to be cataloguing pop, showing their appreciation for the records they love by indentifying their key tropes and reshaping them. Now it feels more like an attempt to compensate for their own lack of ideas - or, for that matter, of passion. The whole thing is so humourless, so dull - not because of some navel-gazing self-absorption, but rather because it sounds as if the band just don't know why they are there. In Our Heads has the feel of a record born of contractual obligation; not grudgingly so much as with resignation. It bodes ill, then, that this is the band's first for Domino.

The most disappointing part is that Hot Chip occasionally flirt with brilliance. They've never been an album band of course, but there are still few experiences more joyful than hearing 'Over And Over' on a decent system when three pints tipsy. In Our Heads runs into The Warning on my computer, and in the opening bars of 'Careful' I am reminded that Hot Chip were once a band with great potential; a band with the ability to pack disparate, apparently non-tessellating ideas into a multicoloured package constructed as much for the dancefloor as for the living room. On In Our Heads the colour is gone, along with the ideas. Phenomenally unexciting.

G. Brithen
Jun 12, 2012 3:44pm

This article is filled with so much vehemence it is hard to believe anything you say....

Your writing is the only thing that is DULL, my friend.

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AJT
Jun 12, 2012 5:18pm

You're wrong, obviously.

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TJA
Jun 13, 2012 12:53am

In reply to AJT:

Nah, he's right. Sorry.

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B. Grithen
Jun 13, 2012 12:55am

In reply to G. Brithen:

Didn't seem that vehement to me. Just honest? But if you like sub-standard dance music I guess I can see why you might be upset.

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Jun 13, 2012 6:47am

This review was incredibly dismissive, just because HC didn't further pursue one life stand's musical direction, which would have been rather boring. Just because IOH isn't attempting to function as an exclusive intellectual piece and instead takes a more straightforward route of excellent body music, as opposed to boring, stagnant head music.

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James
Jun 13, 2012 8:50am

Couldn't agree more with this review. As good a singles band as Hot Chip undoubtedly are, the only time they've been consistent over the course of an album was on The Warning, that was 6 years ago. This one is ok, nothing better

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Jun 13, 2012 9:52am

In reply to TJA:

Don't be sorry, just clean your ears out.

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OJ
Jun 13, 2012 11:26pm

I enjoyed listening to this album a few times on headphones, perhaps because it's not challenging in any way - sometimes music only needs to work on the surface. I agree with many of the points this review makes though. I too went back and listened to The Warning, which still sounds fresh and tight where IOH sounds broad and self-parodic in places. Hot Chip are too clever by half and this is a fairly dumb album, deliberately so.

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Tim Russell
Jun 14, 2012 5:06am

To me they always sound like advertising agency execs trying to sound like New Order. Some of their stuff sounds good but there's an unavoidable whiff of fakery about it all.

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George
Jun 14, 2012 8:29am

In reply to Tim Russell:

Exactly

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Devoid
Jun 14, 2012 10:26am

Josh has been unnecessarily magnanimous here. "Elsewhere...pure drudgery" - in the context/content of this product that's a compliment. Sublime it aint! And although Devo may have been half interesting to look at and may have had some fine "arty" ideas about the late 70s/80s popular musical landscape, they were, in fact, completely awful on the ears....just like Hot Chip!!Comparison acknowledged.

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Rooksby
Jun 14, 2012 6:12pm

In reply to Devoid:

Sorry, but Devo sounded pretty fucking good to me back in the 1980s. The difference is that Devo were genuine innovators, & WAY ahead of their time, in addition to being inspired tunesmiths. Hot Chip, meanwhile, trade exclusively in fraudulent plasticity & shallow retrospection, which is why they'll be completely forgotten half a decade hence...

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Jun 14, 2012 10:06pm

I really like it

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Dominic Cahalin
Jun 17, 2012 6:35pm

Totally disagree with this review. On repeated listens the album reveals strong and complex medoldies,stylish production, and a sophisticated grasp of rythyms and texture. Good music doesn't have to groundbreaking. And hey, It's also varied, fun and full of hooks - you know, the kind of stuff that good pop music is all about. Cynics may scoff but this is a great little album, by a great British pop group. Enjoying it more and more.

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Jeff
Jun 18, 2012 3:06am

I'm wondering who pooped on Josh Hall's sundae ... this is by far one of the most infectious, hook-laiden albums of an already stellar career. Only a critic would pooh-pooh (or should I say poo-poo) the lack of creativity and innovation (not necessarily true ... I think they're refining and playing with styles and tropes) and completely miss how effing fun and listenable this album is. Ignore this review and buy this album. It's one of the best to come out this year.

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Lucas
Jun 19, 2012 12:49pm

Those who think this is not one of their best albums clearly do no understand shit. Motion Sickness, How Do You Do, Ends Of The Earth, Look At Where We Are and Flutes.
It's so obvious the guy writing this review is not talking about music here.

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Justin
Jun 19, 2012 1:34pm

You've clearly only listened to the album the once.

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Simon G
Jun 27, 2012 7:22pm

Anyone think they sound like a modern equivalent of late-era OMD? I'm talking 'Junk Culture' and 'Crush', where they believed they needed to write classy pop songs without any of that experimental rubbish ;).

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Rory
Jul 11, 2012 10:32am

Pitchfork gave it 8/10 saying "In Our Heads, the group's fifth full-length, is their most playful and colorful record yet". Quietus says "In Our Heads is the work of a band fresh out of ideas". When my two touchstones are diametrically opposed what do I do? Make up my own mind I suppose. I am more on the side of Pitchfork but not all the way there. 6.5/10, not bad, some good tunes, pleasantly caught me off guard a couple of times on shuffle.

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