January 25, 2010
One Life Stand is a surprising release from Hot Chip after their last record – 2008′s Made in the Dark. While it was easy to love songs off of Made in the Dark as separate works, as an album, it was all over the place; they were trying to include far too many ideas in an hour’s worth of material. However, with One Life Stand, Hot Chip has created a cohesive album and experimented with a completely new sound. A proper metaphor for this record would be an astronaut’s course through outer space – a journey met with excitement beyond comprehension, fear, sadness, disbelief, and realization.
“Thieves in the Night” is the take off and eventual trip through the atmosphere, the hard bass drum fueling the listener’s growing anticipation. With sweet vocals, kind synthesized sounds, and partially distorted guitar, it sounds like polished 80s electronic pop, which can be said about most of the other songs, too.
This goes straight into the more confident “Hand Me Down Your Love.” We all knew there would be a good amount of piano on this Hot Chip album and get our first taste of it on track two. What’s even more shocking is the strings that come in, hardly noticeable at first, but eventually so evident, with beautiful melody and rich vibrato. For once, synthesized sounds do not play the main role in the music, as if you’re listening to a completely different band.
The surprises keep coming, as “I Feel Better” starts off with vocals tweaked with Auto-Tune – not the kind of Auto-Tune that can easily make one cringe, used in “secret” to roll over the imperfections of a voice, but instead just used to produce a different kind of sound. Real vocals come in, challenging the enhanced ones, making for a very unique track three. The mood of the album starts to become darker, but the songs still maintain a beat that’s easy to dance to.
“One Life Stand,” the title track, comes next. A version had been streamed on MySpace in December to give fans a taste of what the album would be like, but this version exceeds the demo in every way possible. Resonant bass and even a hint of steel drum all lead up to a pre-chorus longer than the original version’s, thus sounding much less awkward than it once was. With the chorus, it becomes clear why this track deserves to share a title with the album, as it’s fantastic.
After Made in the Dark, it feels strange to hear lyrics as tame and relatable as those of track five, “Brothers.” A soft beat and pleasant harmony, but nothing stands out with this song. However, its place in the album is necessary.
“Slush” begins with an arpeggiated “humana humana humana,” which fades into the background, but softly carries throughout the rest of the song, matched with simple piano – A melancholy ballad.
The mood lightens instrumentally with “Alley Cats,” a song that radiates good vibes and gets better and better with every listen. However, one must listen closely to the lyrics to notice the sadness of the song – “There’s no pain I don’t know” repeats several times, and it becomes obvious that it’s actually a song about loss. It is perhaps the best song on the album.
“We Have Love” sounds more like the “old” Hot Chip, but still darker, with unidentifiable sounds right at the start, and a consistent dance beat. More strings are snuck into this number as well, with clean bow re-takes nearly hidden beneath the busy atmosphere of the track. There’s an anxiety causing build-up with this one, and there’s no way to predict which path the album will take with the following last two tracks.
The outer space imagery returns with “Keep Quiet,” beginning to wrap up the album. It’s easy for one to let their mind wander off during this slowed down number – as it is not one of the more remarkable tracks – and be reawakened when the last track – “Take It In” – begins, signifying the trip back to Earth in the previously used space metaphor. Mellow vocals during the chorus accompany the best beat found throughout the album – it will undoubtedly be one of the more fun songs to be heard live on Hot Chip’s upcoming tour. It feels like a resolution has been reached on the last note.
One Life Stand is the necessary change in direction that Hot Chip needed. While the band easily could have stayed in their comfort zone and still have been loved by their fans, they took a risk and tried something new. Some fans may be confused by this drastically different album at first, but most will be extremely impressed.