On the title track of Hot Chip’s eighth album, Alexis Taylor makes a startling confession: Music doesn’t really do it for him anymore. Against a claustrophobic backdrop of nagging robo-disco, he worries: “Music was an escape / Now I can’t escape it.” He navigates a litany of misfortunes – the music is omnipresent, oppressive, ignorable – and arrives at a crisis of faith: “I’m losing the taste for this feeling / Give me a sign that I can start to believe.
If this momentary crack in Taylor’s worldview is surprising, it’s because Hot Chip has always radiated the glow of kids eagerly returning home from the record store wearing the hottest 12″ of the latest genre. dart on one of their lyric sheets, and you’re likely to hit a line on “resonating sound” or “the joy of repetition”, or a reference to love rock or Vanity 6. “Freakout/Release is no different in that respect; the vocoder’s opening chorus evokes UK “Freak”, techno group LFO’s 2003 dancefloor bombshell, making it an easter egg for left-handed clubbers of a certain age.
Inspired in part by Hot Chip’s live cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” “Freakout/Release” is one of the loudest songs in the band’s catalog to date, and stylistically one of the most offbeat. But it’s also the spiritual centerpiece of an album about adult pain wrapped in the unbridled energy of eternal youth. Treating music as something like a homeopathic remedy, Freakout / Liberation joins the doubt to the deliverance on the purifying pulsation of a disco rhythm.
This is not the first time that they sing on this kind of themes; a quick scan of past reviews suggests that Hot Chip has been making their adult album since at least the 2010s Stand of a lifetime. But Freakout / Liberation is clouded by specific pains, both societal and personal. Their last album, 2019 A bath full of ecstasy, was supposed to simulate immersive happiness, but things didn’t quite work out; it was overshadowed by the death of co-producer Philippe Zdar, then a medical scare on tour; then, just nine months after the album’s release, the nightlife came to a screeching halt, with all that ecstatic bathwater turning cold during the agonizing COVID-19 lockdowns.
Freakout / Liberation constitutes a reset. Much of the album is outwardly about pleasure: about dancing, togetherness, physical contact and sex. Recorded in the London studio that Al Doyle set up during the pandemic, it’s the first Hot Chip album to be written from scratch by the whole band in the same room, and its sound reflects that commonality. energies, full of exuberant dance rhythms and arrangements that burst at the seams. Opener “Down,” anchored by a sample of ’70s funk from the Universal Togetherness Band, is a lifeline thrown by a DJ into a sea of existential despair. The rushed “Time” features a ticking house groove in heart-in-mouth trance synths and laser zaps. Virtually every inch of tape seems to bend under the weight of whatever they throw at it. The bold and exceptionally fun “Guilty” is a mid-tempo anthem that riffs on big-budget ’80s pop like Van Halen, Yes and Peter Gabriel, as well as, obliquely, Tom Waits; the “Out of My Depth” conclusion begins with a muted meditation on depression, but by the end it’s practically levitating, sounding like a sonic clash between Spiritualized and Stereolab.