Friends for 27 years, bandmates for 19, Alex Taylor and Joe Goddard officially formed Hot Chip in 2000, releasing a handful of EPs as a duo. Add in Al Doyle, Felix Martin and Owen Clarke a few years later and Hot Chip were born proper, the bulk of their best material coming between 2006’s ‘Boy From School’ and 2010’s ‘One Life Stand.’
Their dynamic performance at All Points East last month was certainly the mark of a band comfortable in their own skin. Tearing through a cover of Beastie Boys ‘Sabotage’, the audience euphorically bounced during one of the festivals most memorable moments. It’s a thrill to discover then that the dynamic sentiment of that performance is one matched on their seventh studio album ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ – their boldest offering for years.
It’s certainly a surprise. Their last, ‘Why Make Sense?’ was a slow burner but offered little in the way of the synth-pop innovation Hot Chip pioneered in the early ’00s. The colourful pastel sonic palette the band were known for was muted and monochrome: at times, it felt lost. Away from the studio, the band were grieving after the sudden loss of their long-term collaborator, Vince Sipprell. Suddenly, the monochrome made sense.
‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy‘ is the opposite: it’s a celebration of life in full technicolour and one that has come from Hot Chip opening the door – for the very first time in their career – to outside producers, Philippe Zdar (Cassius, Phoenix) and Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, David Byrne). Both have taken Hot Chip out of a comfort zone 19-years in the making, with McDonald challenging Taylor’s lyricism, Zdar their entire sound – and it’s Zdar’s influence that feels most significant.
“You have to put more air in it!” was Zdar’s advice to Hot Chip, according to Al Doyle, the super-producer daring them to build vast sonic landscapes as opposed to echoes in closed spaces. On the eve of their album release, news of Zdar’s untimely death feels unbearably cruel not least because his passion, desire and exuberance for life is seeped into every corner of this album.
‘Melody of Love’ is the album’s hugely optimistic opener and its manifesto. What initially began as a 12-minute experimental instrumental ended up as a 4-minute burst of focused, blissful exuberance and asks: “Do you have faith to feel in this world?” The conclusion, via cascading synths and arpeggiated keyboards, is a resounding ‘Yes’. It’s a song about finding moments of hope in darkness, of replacing the white-noise of now with snatches of ecstasy.
The album only gets stronger. ‘Hungry Child’ is the album’s standout track and prime candidate for festival song of the summer. Combining classic house and garage, its underscored with an array of vintage synths and blasts of euphoric rave as the band twist their staple synth-pop sound out of shape.
Elsewhere there are more surprises. The Spiritualized-like ‘Clear Blue Skies’ offers almost 7-minutes of dreamy psychedelia and uplifting escapism whereas ‘Spell’ channels avant-garde dance with nods to Phoenix and Daft Punk. The title track, meanwhile, plays around with vintage synths favoured by Prince and Depeche Mode, Zdar pushing them to deconstructed extremes. Taylor’s falsetto too, which has largely been left to its own devices throughout his career, is manipulated via some grown-up French art-pop and vocoders.
‘Hungry Child’s’ “Living in an airless room / Praying I can breathe in soon,” sums up ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’ well. It’s an album about being suffocated by the world around you and trying to find moments of joy within that world, however small, in order to survive. Dance, for Hot Chip, is defiance. Amidst all the experimentation and extremes of this impressive album is a message about life: bathing in the moments of ecstasy will ultimately enable us to cherish and value life more, something Taylor epitomises on emotive closer ‘No God’ where music is literally hope. In light of Zdar’s sad passing and in the negative political narrative of now, we’ve never needed optimism so badly.