Beating Franz Ferdinand, in More Ways Than One

Suit-clad glamsters Franz Ferdinand and the Killers may get the glossy magazine covers, but British Columbia's Hot Hot Heat were making spiky, guitar-driven dance-punk first (this century, anyway), and they still make it better. With 2002's Make Up the Breakdown,their geeky, terse, synth-driven pop drove legions of dance-phobic college rock navel-gazers to shake previously unshaken asses.

In this post-"Take Me Out" climate, the Canucks' unpretentious new Elevator should be embraced big time. It has all of the stomp and swagger of Franz, if not the impeccable grooming. Everything about their mannered breakup anthem "Goodnight, Goodnight"—from its bitter detachment (the singer's "given up on social niceties") to its psychedelic organ runs to its jagged tempo changes—feels necessary. In fact, give or take a noodly 36-second interlude called "No Jokes—Fact" (which, hopefully, is a joke), there's barely an excess note or handclap to be wrung from the entire lean record.

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At their best, Hot Hot Heat sound adolescent. Their snotty, moody lyrics ("Jack of all trades and a master of none. Why do I have to be bored with being foolish and young?") are best up against spastic A.D.D. beats. So when tempos slow down near the end, the album loses a bit of steam. But even then, there's HHH's secret weapon: Steve Bays's onomatopoetic voice. With his dramatic yelp and bratty croon, he actually might be baying at the moon.

 
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