When Hot Chip dropped their excellent seventh album ‘A Bath Full Of Ecstasy’ in 2019, they sounded like a band re-energised. Widescreen, euphoric tracks were guided for the first time by outside producers, with Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, David Byrne) and the late Philippe Zdar (Cassius, Phoenix) helping them reach new heights. It’s not that the London five-piece had previously suffered a string of middling releases: Hot Chip are one of the most consistently strong electro-pop outfits of their generation. But perhaps they needed a bit of a refresh as they neared their 20th anniversary.
‘Freakout/Release’ arrives three years later, in the wake of COVID, with a title that pits it as the sister to the joys of ‘A Bath Full Of Ecstasy’. Its name suggests letting loose after being holed up. And while ‘Freakout/Release’ does boast brilliant moments of a back-to-the-dancefloor feral energy, there’s some unprecedentedly (for this band) dark lyrical introspection. Themes of depression, anxiety, toxic masculinity, burnout and more litter this album.
Hot Chip do admittedly lift things on ‘Down’, a sizzling disco-funk track that samples Universal Togetherness Band’s ‘More Than Enough’. “Until I met you I never worked for one day,” Alexis Taylor sings over strangled guitars and cowbell-addled beats, detailing a person or institution that saps the life out of him. Lyrics notwithstanding, it’s a fizzing, infectious tune that compels you to dance.
Collaborators Soulwax have their mitts on the electro-funk-punk title track, featuring a Daft Punk-style vocoder refrain: “Wild beast / freakout release”. Taylor explained previously that the song is inspired by his band’s live cover of Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ and is “also about making sense of music”. Taylor added that while he loves music, “it can feel claustrophobic”. That’s well-reflected in the tune’s workmanlike drum machine and synths, which later convey escape via ramshackle guitar solos and raucous live drums.
After a promising start ‘Freakout/Release’, takes a tumble with ‘Broken’, ‘Not Alone’ and ‘Hard To Feel Funky’ – lulling cuts that explore mental turbulence and pull Taylor’s vocals into sappier emo territory. ‘The Evil That Men Do’ (featuring rapper Cadence Weapon) doesn’t quite work, either, as it morphs from glacial trip-hop into clunky old-rap about a “world on fire”.
The closing refrain of the synthwave-inspired ‘Guilty’ and ‘Time’, a propulsive, transcendent ode to grief (reminiscent of ‘…Ecstasy’ gem ‘Melody Of Love’), help resuscitate things elsewhere and ‘Freakout/Release’ certainly isn’t a complete misfire. Its loose premise of retooling negative feelings to a positive end is sometimes realised, though it was always going to be difficult to evoke the sparkly catharsis of its dizzying predecessor.
Release date: August 19
Record label: Domino