Some heavy competition has come up for them, the brand-new Django Django among other bands, but are back, faithfully dropping recordings every two years and aiming to show everyone that the front line of electro-pop is theirs. After having gained enough experience in parallel projects like The 2 Bears, New Build and About Group, our beloved nerds have landed at Domino with a fifth full-length that is by far their most pumped-up work to date. An unstoppable hour of sound energy that will spur people onto the dance floor, loaded down with viscoelastic beats and bouncy synths, dominated at all times by that lovely combination of voices that Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor put together so well. “In Our Heads” contains the most frenetic song that the band has ever recorded (“Night And Day”) alongside a good string of songs with house branded into their guts. There are “These Chains”, “Ends Of The Earth” and the sensational “Let Me Be Him” and “Flutes”; all of them poised to set live show venues on fire.
The album being so colourful and cerebral can be attributed to the fact that the group has called in an outside sound engineer, Mark Ralph, something that they hadn’t needed to resort to until now. But this could also be interpreted as a response to the considerable number of soft-rock half-times on its fabulous predecessor “One Life Stand” (2010); an album that worked as a sort of overview of all that Hot Chip are capable of doing stylistically – but that many people were unable to enjoy as such. In my opinion, whilst that album represented the heart, feelings, and promises of eternal love, this one is the brain and serotonin. Furthermore, it plays the old switcheroo, changing gears on you right when you get going. Alright, there are exceptions that appeal directly to the skin, like that “Always Been Your Love” with Lizzi Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) in the background, but they stuck it in at the very end and you get to it exhausted by all of the exercise you’ve gotten along the way.
There is also not much to be surprised about in this. We already knew that Hot Chip understand music as something physical and that they tend to play with this idea continually (looking no further than “Night And Day”, where it’s hard to tell whether the lyrics are calling you to dance or to have sex). Similarly we have also known how well they handle production design since “Made In The Dark” (2008) and how often they like to use that as a Trojan horse. Let’s see: in the initial triad of “In Our Heads”, as overwhelming as always, “Motion Sickness” stands out, with its awakening to the pleasures of music. However, right away “How Do You Do” and “Don’t Deny Your Heart” show the album’s Achilles heel – the factor that can make the album falter at the first listen - however bombastic they may be: they try for the hits so straightforwardly that it’s hard to differentiate them from the rest. This is just the opposite of how easy and explosive their old anthems were in that sense. To top it off, then comes “Look At Where We Are”, a downer that pulls the rug out from under you. It’s a retro ballad in the lines of the very 70s “Now There Is Nothing”, which also doesn’t gel with the rest as well as it could
Let me make myself clear: everything on “In Our Heads” is executed perfectly, utterly enjoyably. But at the same time, it shows that where before the group was learning as they explored, now they just seem to be going around in circles, like a dog chasing its tail. In this sense, it’s just the opposite of “The Warning” (2006), still today their least flashy title, which is fresher, more mysterious. Is the length of “In Our Heads” unnecessarily constrained? Does it suffer from a lack of control? Does it end up saturated by its own euphoria? With Hot Chip it’s hard to say. They are such a sweet group, such good students when it comes to fraternising with any possible dance music (disco, funk, electro, house, pop and soul in infinite combinations), that it’s hard to verbalise their mistakes. The thing is that they are definitely still virtually unrivalled when it comes to calling to mind Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Madonna, Kraftwerk and The Human League (whose polyrhythmic bass from “Do Or Die” they nail in the final section of “Don’t Deny Your Heart”) with equal ease. What would really be fair is for them to get over the damn hurdle of the mainstream and blow out the charts once and for all. Here they have great songs to do that, although as an album, yours truly would stick to “The Warning” or “One Life Stand”.