Hot Chip initially came to the public consciousness in 2004 with “Over and Over,” a song whose hypnotic groove dovetailed nicely with the then emerging trend of indie-rock bands messing around with dancebeats. The five-man crew thankfully, though, didn’t peak with that one track. Their subsequent record, The Warning, showed that they were more than just that one song. The album delivered on the promise of the single and then some. With a goofy sense of humor that set them apart from their contemporaries, they also managed to avoid being lumped in with a movement. While other bands from that time have struggled or simply stopped producing records, Hot Chip has managed to stay on a consistent clip of releasing something nearly every two years. Right on the schedule, the band’s back with its latest album, In Our Heads.
At this stage of the game, one might assume that with album number five Hot Chip has no new surprises to offer. But what In Our Heads shows is that the band has been slowly growing up all this time, quietly embracing sincerity. While they’re still prone to have silly statements like, “I don’t play gabba. I like Zapp not Zappa” (“Night and Day”), they find time to implore a wayward lover for a second chance. Musicically, they’re mining the early ’80s for what it actually was instead of a neon synth explosion. They dip into early house along with some blue-eyed soul. While there may not be anything as catchy as “Over and Over,” the result is proper songs instead of just fist in the air chants. Arguably, In Our Heads may be Hot Chip’s best showing simply because the band has managed to grow without losing anything. It helps that they keep everything so tight that even a seven-minute workout feels like a jukebox single. Hot Chip has proven that you can emerge from hype unscathed and even thrive on the other side.
Dorian S. Ham
In just the few years that the band has been in existence, The Fresh & Onlys have amassed an impressive catalog of records (three full-lengths and a large stack of EPs and singles). However, their output has slowed down a bit. (When album number four, Long Slow Dance, comes out in September, it will have been nearly two years since the masterful Play It Strange.) But while the band’s rhythm section has perhaps been taking it easy, the group’s other two members, singer and guitarist Tim Cohen and guitarist Wymond Miles, have each filled their time by creating new records outside the band.
Cohen, who is one of the band’s principal songwriters, recently released what is one of three albums and an EP that he’s released in the interim between Fresh & Onlys records. The first of those was titled Magic Trick, but he’s since adapted that title as the moniker for the band that has signed on with him. Ruler of the Night follows last year’s The Glad Birth of Love, but with that record comprised of four epic tracks, Ruler has more in common with the music Cohen has released under his own name. Still, it contains nothing as catchy as Magic Trick’s “I Am Never Going to Die.” Indeed, this set taps a mellower vibe than that of anything Cohen has heretofore done. But with the bright vocals of Alicia Vanden Heuval’s complimenting his dusky croon, the album’s pastoral tones are dappled with small moments of pop brilliance.
On Under the Pale Moon, Miles sticks to the nocturnal hues at which the album’s title hints. That aesthetic, as it turns out, is darker and less obviously pop than the Fresh & Onlys’. Instead, the guitarist finds a niche that splits the difference between the band and, say, The Mission or Lords of the New Church, while leadoff track “Strange Desire” owes a debt of influence to “China Girl.” But nothing Miles does is very obvious. Instead, he works in subtleties, creating songs like “Youth’s Lonely Wilderness” that are wrapped in nuance. Indeed, once one gets past the cut’s etheric wrapper, it has all the elements of a classic ballad. As with Cohen’s latest, I may still prefer what occurs when The Fresh & Onlys are all together to Miles’ solo debut, but it’s hard not to appreciate the good deal of magic he manages to create on his own.
MP3: Magic Trick, “Invisible at Midnight”
Rebecca Gates is a right-brained savant of sorts, a critically acclaimed musician, an artist, an audio editor, and at one time, one-half of the seminal girl-boy indie-rock outfit, The Spinanes. Though she’s been whetting her hands with various projects on her own for more than a decade (including co-curating The Marfa Sessions, an arts exhibition that helped to shed light on the mystical, once-hidden arts colony in Marfa,Texas), she’s finally revisiting the medium in which she first garnered buzz: music. Gates is finally releasing her second full-length album, the long awaited follow-up to 2001’s Ruby Series, entitled The Float.
The album begins and ends with instrumental songs (save for a very few final breathy seconds of the closer), opening with the classically influenced “Van Noten 007” and closing with “Slowed Lowed Lowered,” a minimalist, semi-digitized scrawl that somehow morphs itself into a veritable post-rock side. This track, however, is quite different from the jazzier, brighter and breezier that comprise the majority of The Float. Gates’ pixie-esque voice sashays from high notes to low, and she sings these songs with a gentle ease that’s most apparent on tracks like “Rose,” a stark (at first), angelic song tied up with a ribbon of sweeping, haunting strings. Lilith Fair died and this is its memorial. “Lease and Flame” is a contemplative lounge-worthy number, with Gates’ sanguine voice floating in and out of range.
As a whole, the album, with all its breezy, yet hard-hitting guitar melodies and breathy vocals, feels like it’s the reflection of one big, long journey, which it truly is. Recorded over a period of many years, with influence from various travels and places, The Float is a truly unique curation of Gates’ life experiences in music form.
The first release from Miami rapper/producer SpaceGhostPurrp—on 4AD oddly—is a greatest hits of sorts, comprised of a few new songs and remastered and remixed tracks from the his mixtapes. After gaining an underground fanbase, 21-year-old erstwhile Muney Jordan has been generating buzz with his arresting sound. Though his moniker comes from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, his music is befitting of the name, with lyrics rapped over haunting, often dark melodies and beats, creating an unsettling feeling that the music and meaning is just out of the listener’s grasp.
While SpaceGhostPurrp’s list of influences includes Three 6 Mafia, DJ Paul, Eazy E, Tupac and DJ Screw, his vocal delivery is most often reminiscent of Tricky (minus the British accent), sharing similarly laidback, hypnotic wordplay. There’s also the electronic influences of the ’90s, such as the trance hints of “Bringing The Phonk” and the “Get Yah Head Bust.” But as he notes in “No Evidence,” back in ’98, he was hating on elementary school. World-weary by age seven, SGP seems unsurprisingly to be an old soul, musically and lyrically, or as he describes himself, an “Orisis of the East.” But though he’s got plenty of braggadocio, there’s also something haunted about his lyrics, as on first single, “The Black God,” when he proclaims, “I got to have the world in my hands. I’m a god.” Not every song offers deep introspection (the record also contains “Suck A Dick 2012” and “Grind on Me”), but the chronicles of SpaceGhostPurrp are probably just beginning to unfold.
MP3: “The Black God”
The line between “real” albums and mixtapes in the hip-hop world has become blurred to the point of non-existence. Where once mixtapes were a way for a DJ to show off his skills, it’s slowly became a less formal showcase for new songs. In the midst of this evolution, the “tapes” have became more polished in presentation and execution. The only real difference is who’s footing the bill. Throwing his cap into the ring again is the rapper/political activist B. Dolan. His latest release, House of Bees Vol. 2 is both the follow-up to the first volume, but also the intermediate next step following 2010’s Fallen House Sunken City.
Being a political rapper is a tricky thing. How do you get your message across without making it seem like a lecture? Can you be issue-driven, but still deliver killer rhymes? And most importantly, can you present what could be really complicated ideas in a very concise manner? Luckily, Dolan manages all of the above. With the help of Buddy Peace, Vol. 2 strikes a smart balance between the music and the message. Dolan wants to get his point across, but he knows how to keep it functional and funky. But because no one really wants to listen to good intentions, Dolan is as adept as a vocalist as he is as a writer. He’s also smart enough to mix in the personal with the political, as well as a little bit of classic emcee posturing. So while he can turn in a song as unblinking as the “Fuck Da Police” recast, “Film the Police,” he can also flip into trash talk mode on songs like “2Bad.”
The only places where Vol. 2 stumbles is where Dolan loses his momentum. For example, on the aforementioned “Film the Police,” the MC and guests Toki Wright, Sage Francis, and Jasiri X make their case perfectly, but the song keeps going. As such, it feels like it repeats itself. There are some sequencing issues, and some editing here and there could have made the whole project a little tighter. But as a whole, House of Bees Vol. 2 is a solid showing that doesn’t need the political rapper or mixtape asterisks.
Dorian S. Ham