HOT Chip’s sixth album is a celebration of the group’s tight live unit, finds Fiona Shepherd
Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?
Domino Rating: ****
There has been a wealth of extra-curricular activity in the Hot Chip camp since the release of their previous album, In Our Heads. Singer Alexis Taylor has recorded another solo album and fronted experimental jazz collective About Group, Joe Goddard threw himself into his 2 Bears alias, while Al Doyle and Felix Martin have recorded together as New Build.
Seeing other people clearly has its benefits, as Hot Chip’s sixth album is as much a celebration of the particular qualities of their tight live unit as anything else. Fifteen years in to their career, they have chosen to record live for the first time, while seemingly questioning their relevance in a musical landscape which is now stuffed with other (inferior) electronic acts.
Fortunately for Hot Chip, good hooks, thoughtful lyrics, imaginative arrangements and emotional vocals never go out of fashion, and the collective talent pool in this band is surely sufficient to keep obsolescence at bay.
The single Huarache Lights sounds exotic and rather romantic – even with the knowledge the song is named after a brand of trainers. It’s a beautifully calibrated track, capturing the anticipation of a night out – because guys in their thirties and forties can feel that too, y’know? The promise that anything could happen is subtly suggested by a slight key shift which keeps you on your toes throughout the track.
Even without the compositional quirks, their influences are immaculate, coalescing around the warmer end of machine music. Like Daft Punk, Hot Chip love their funk and disco and, on this outing, their talkbox vocal effects.
Started Right shamelessly evokes a 70s funk feel, with the use of electric piano, disco strings and some baritone vocals. Taylor’s plaintive, soul-searching tenor voice and lyrics are still given their rightful place, tenderly countering the loungey backing of the album’s ballads So Much Further To Go and White Wine and Fried Chicken and providing a dynamic contrast to the precision-tooled tech house backing of Cry For You.
He shares vocal responsibilities with guest rapper Posdnuos (of De La Soul) on the tasty electro soul track Love Is The Future, and cedes the main vocal hookline to an achingly soulful sample on Need You Now, a track about feeling impotent in the face of terror. It’s hardly your average dancefloor subject matter – but Hot Chip are far from your average dancefloor band, closing out with a title track which asks “why make sense when the world around refuses?” and hammers the point home with forceful drumming from Sarah Jones.
There’s an additional crack at idiosyncracy with the packaging of the album, which will please fans of physical product. In a neat, individualistic touch, each sleeve will feature a subtly different colour palette and design. But as there are 130,000 permutations, buying the whole set isn’t really an option. FIONA SHEPHERD
Roisin Murphy: Hairless Toys
Play It Again Sam
Excepting one EP of Italian pop covers, this is the first new music in eight years from Roisin Murphy, the idiosyncratic, questing frontwoman of leftfield dance act Moloko. Hairless Toys is a classy affair, as one might expect, but far more muted than the rest of Murphy’s catalogue to date. With regular collaborator Eddie Stevens, she has fashioned a collection of downbeat dance tracks which are in no hurry to deliver a pay-off. That said, the fidgety funk of Uninvited Guest and woozy ebb and flow of Exploitation take hypnotic hold. Her extraordinary voice is deployed with restraint, most effectively on Exile, a breathy torch song with tremolo-sodden guitar. FS
The Fall: Sub-Lingual Tablet
Cherry Red Records
For those who are counting, this is The Fall’s 31st studio album, laboured over for four or five months and, accordingly, a difficult beast. Mark E Smith presents more than ever as the drunk ranter you want to avoid in the pub, sounding particularly raddled on Stout Man and Pledge – but then, there does appear to be a reference to Bono on the latter, so one can appreciate the rancour. The band, however, sound constrained in places, exceptions being the dread electro of Dedication Not Medication, hep rockabilly number First One Today, garagey Krautrock odyssey Auto Chip 14-15 and demonic space surf rocker Facebook Troll, rounded off with a freaky, jaunty whistled coda. FS
Romaria: Choral Music from Brazil
Take the exotic recorded soundscape of the Brazilian rainforest – birds, frogs and buzzing insects – and overlay a snatch of a 16th century Vittoria mass that gradually morphs into a spectacular combination of the two vocal worlds and you have Metaphors by the late Brazilian composer Henrique de Curtiba. It’s just one of an alluring collection of Brazilian works written since 1950 that constitute this exceptional recording by the Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, under its inspirational director Geoffrey Webber. The sweet folksong arrangements of Ernst Mahle, the rich sonic clusters of Prado’s Oráculo and Aylton Escobar’s fruity Missa Breve are attractively offbeat but never quite as unorthodox. A fascinating choral adventure. KEN WALTON
MALINKY: FAR BETTER DAYS
After something of a hiatus, this premier Scots folk quartet returns with a vengeance, with an admirably crafted album of songs largely of North-East provenance, gleaned from such sterling sources as Jeannie Robertson and the Greig-Duncan Collection.
Fine, clear singing from Fiona Hunter, Steve Byrne and Mark Dunlop is accompanied by fiddle, bouzouki, harmonica and Mike Vass’s fiddle and tenor guitar, effectively carrying the songs without obscuring them. Jaunty numbers such as Tarves Parish or the bothy ballad The Term Time are driven with smeddum, and Dunlop gives a nice lilt to Long Cookstown, a version of Nancy Whiskey from his native Ulster.
Byrne’s version of The Twa Sisters is heralded by the dramatically signalling strains of Mike Vass’s fiddle, while other “muckle sangs” include Hunter’s telling of The Bonnie Hoose of Airlie, while the standout track has to be a superb rendition by Hunter of the ballad My Son David, poised, stark and accompanied only by harmonium drone and a cappella harmonies. JIM GILCHRIST
Andy Sheppard Quartet: Surrounded by Sea
The saxophonist has added Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset’s richly layered guitar and electronics to his earlier Trio Libero line up featuring bassist Michel Benita and drummer Sebastian Rochford, and with impressive results.
The centrepiece of the disc is a three-part take on the Gaelic tune Aoidh, Na Dean Cadal Idir, rescued from a proposed project with Scottish singer Julie Fowlis that did not come to fruition.
With the exception of a version of Elvis Costello’s I Want To Vanish, the rest of the spacious, reflective music originates with the quartet, and demands something of a contemplative mood in the listener.
Sheppard’s sinuous, lyrical lines on tenor and soprano are as compelling as ever, while Aarset’s distinctive approach to guitar fills out the texture of the ensemble sound without restricting the spacious interplay of the trio’s previous eponymous recording on this label. KENNY MATHIESON