One thing we like about Hot Chip is that they’re horny dance nerds who can dance and pretend to not be horny. Or maybe they’re horny nerds who can pretend to both dance and not be horny. Actually, it’s possible they pretend to be horny, pretend to dance, and aren’t even nerds. These guys are so arch they might even be sincere. Which, of course, would change everything. Perhaps what we really love about Hot Chip is that they’re humorous and straight-faced without being ironic, which is nice, because that way, when they do a love song, we don’t have to worry if that’s ironic, too. And they’ve been doing a lot of love songs lately.
The excellent new One Life Stand is titled perfectly. Dance beats—to which the London quintet is beholden, no matter how many piano ballads they write—are not usually known for signifying anything long-term besides an extended remix or a hangover. When they’re paired with vocals, historically they’ve celebrated the quickest needs: a fix, a hookup, a fleeting feeling. Hot Chip, while not the first to do this and certainly not the last, instead want “songs to remember,” to quote the ballad they couldn’t title with a straight face—”Slush.” And when frontman Alexis Taylor offers to settle—”I only want one night together in our arms,” he insists on “I Feel Better”—he’s quick to clarify: “This is the longest night.” Later, he realizes he needs a better phrase for it: “I only want to be your one life stand.”
From the big-bang innuendo of 2008’s Made in the Dark to the even earlier “When I’m 64” upgrade “Look After Me,” Hot Chip have been pondering the forever-ever for a while, so don’t let Taylor’s “Heaven is nowhere” atheism fool you for a minute: The holiest of holies here is matrimony. (Though they allow for other types of sincere affection: There’s no question the “wild love” Taylor describes on “Brothers” is strictly fraternal—as a sex song, the kinkiest suggestion would be that he plays Xbox afterwards.) So the big twist with One Life Stand is that in a four-album career spent interspersing twisted fantasies (breaking necks, snapping heads, inventing a wrestling move called the “Willie Nelson”) between sweet nothings, this one is almost fetishistically untwisted.
Same for the music, which is hyperactive and direct as ever, despite the glee-club exercises in “Slush” and the chamber music of “I Feel Better.” The especially exciting “Hand Me Down Your Love” is dry as punk, with drums and piano steering with a force Spoon haven’t dared since 2002. Before the strings warm up even that one, of course. “Keep Quiet” plinks with the austere glow of a flying saucer that never lands; “Take It In” polishes greasy acid synths until it would feel absurd to call them cheap.
And yet, for all the universal themes and studio cleanup, One Life Stand feels less ambitious in scope than its spiraling-fireworks predecessors. Or maybe it just feels simpler, which is no accident: Taylor once described Made in the Dark as a “messy double album” and expressed an exhausted need to simplify this time around. So, less intricacy is devoted to cleverness and sonic layering—just a little Auto-Tune here, a few strings there—in favor of calm parts carefully delegated into an easy-breathing whole. You could almost call it monogamous.
Hot Chip play Terminal 5 April 22–23