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Hot Chip
A Bath Full of Ecstasy Fergal Kinney , June 28th, 2019 09:46

On their new album, Hot Chip work out what to do once the imperial phase is over, finds Fergal Kinney

Across Hot Chip’s journey from art-dance eccentricities to part of the furniture of the festival headlining establishment, the one act they’ve been compared to throughout has been Pet Shop Boys. It’s easy to see why – both groups dealing in a high-energy synth pop tempered (transformed?) by the clipped melancholia of a vocalist who wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing. On A Bath Full of Ecstasy, Hot Chip find an answer to the question that dogged Pet Shop Boys from 1988 onwards – what do you do once the imperial phase is over?

One of the biggest shifts on A Bath Full of Ecstasy has been to bring in outside producers for the first time, in the form of Rodaidh McDonald (Sampha, The XX) and Philippe Zdar (Cassius, Motorbass). In the same way that Zdar helped delivered Franz Ferdinand’s best record in a decade with last year’s Always Ascending, his influence has been galvanising across this record. The sonic backdrop is richer, more luscious and colourful, whilst rhythms that once would twitch are now more confident and loose.

As on LCD Soundsystem’s 2017 comeback American Dream, the album is stalked by a mid-life concern with mortality, a dancefloor excitement that shivers into existentialism. For both LCD and Hot Chip, it’s something of a sweet spot. Glittering opening track ‘Melody of Love’ may be aimed firmly at the dancefloor, but it’s almost entirely concerned with loss, and changing roles. “While I was standing next to you” sings Alexis Taylor, “I overheard the saddest news.” It’s also one of the soaring heights of Hot Chip’s entire back catalogue – its themes of surrender underlined by a well-judged gospel sample towards the track’s close. There’s more of this too; take ‘Positive’, a rumination on old friends who “get together sometimes and talk about how we used to get together sometimes”. At the end of that track’s chorus, Taylor’s vocal clarion shrugs “I don’t know how I can live”, and it’s one of the most quietly heartbreaking things I’ve heard on record this year.

Don’t worry though, there’s no shortage of out-and-out bangers. ‘Spell’, with its nagging repeated refrain (“like a spell you are under, like a spell you are under”) is that rare, joyous thing of a band sounding like the fullest iteration of themselves, almost daring to sound like their EMI commercial apex. ‘Hungry Child’ may be the most straightforward banger on the record but this still crams a lot into its six minutes; a gorgeously soulful vocal line here, a bit of garage there, a delicious drop just before the two minute mark. And that transcendence trick re-occurs on the glowing title track, marked by a woozily psychedelic vocoder hook. In his history of the autotune, Simon Reynolds wrote that the vocoder use on Cher’s ‘Believe’ contained “a blend of posthuman perfection and angelic transcendence ideal” that chimed with that song’s quasi-religiosity, and the exact same dynamic is at play here. They might be concerned with mortality now, but A Bath Full of Ecstasy shows a group pulsating with life, colour and ideas.

nb This review was filed before the untimely death of Philippe Zdar on 19 June

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