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Hot Chip
Freakout/Release Marc Burrows , September 1st, 2022 08:33

Perennial miserablists still finding reasons to strut it funky

God bless Hot Chip, the eternal sad nerds at the disco. LCD Soundsystem and Justice might be hanging out in the smoking area being all hip and cool, but Hot Chip are the ones alternating between crying quietly in a corner and bugging the DJ with questions about envelope filters, Chic b-sides and the Moog model with the best decay. This is a band whose breakthrough single saw them rejoicing in the monotony of doing the same thing “over and over and over”. It was always going to catch up with them eventually.

On Freakout/Release, the five-piece weepy-disco-joy-machine’s eighth album, that inherent melancholy, floating below the surface of most of their best work, is fully fronted. You can’t blame them – the world, after all, is fucking awful just now; the old respites aren’t quite what they were. “Music used to be an escape … now I can’t escape it” sings Alexis Taylor, providing the most quotable moment on an already super-quotable album. This is the sound, as one-time collaborator Jarvis Cocker memorably said, “of someone losing the plot”.

The central theme of Freakout/Release is weariness. Burnout. Exhaustion. Trust us when we say you’ll relate. “Sometimes I think I’m coping, but I know I have no such luck” sings Taylor on the gorgeous and aptly titled ‘Broken’ as he grasps for the words to convey … all of this. “Ain’t it hard to be funky when you’re not feeling sexy?” Joe Goddard laments later, “and it’s hard to be sexy when you’re not feeling funky”. What is a boy to do?

Even the song titles, ‘Down’, ‘Broken’, ‘Guilty’, ‘Out of My Depth’, convey a certain sense of just-fucking-knackered-mate. “It’s okay to let plans crumble and fall into the ditch we have kicked them into”, goes the superb ‘The Evil That Men Do’ – alas not an Iron Maiden cover – letting every one of us whose best intentions melted in the supernova glare of reality off the hook. Honestly, fuck it. You’re not writing that novel. You’re not learning to drive. You’re not finishing that jigsaw. Listen to your buddies in Hot Chip. It’s okay.

If all of this seems a wee bit fatalistic and just a touch mardy – and let’s be honest, that’s because it absolutely is both of those things – and possibly something of a drag, then there’s good news: despite the wallowing, there is a fundamental Hot Chippyness to the music that, though appropriately reflective of the record’s moribund themes, is still, in its own sometimes quiet, sometimes propulsive way, utterly gorgeous.

Co-producers Soulwax make their presence felt immediately on the chipper disco of opener ‘Down’, powered by a cunningly deployed sample from disco outsiders the Universal Togetherness Band, though even here Taylor is keen not to let the good vibes get in the way of his bad mood (“Until I met you I never worked for one day” he sings of someone who is presumably striking him off their Christmas card list as you read this). The title track is a burbling, sinister electro-pop monster with a vocodered refrain (“Wild! Beast! Freakout! Release!”) that deserves its own dance routine. As with ‘Down’, it’s one of those Daft Punky moments that could be the sound of the summer if it wasn’t being dragged below the waves by its own existential meltdown.

There’s a sumptuous, early-Depeche retro appeal to the analogue warmth of ‘Guilty’, while ‘Out of My Depth’ has an almost hymnal quality where Handel meets house music, starting small but swelling to a bopping positivity that indie optimists like Belle & Sebastian would kill for. It means the album leaves us on a much-needed note of musical and lyrical hope, that we will, apparently, get through this. It’d be nice to think so.