There are five words slipped into the middle of ‘Night and Day’ – the hyper-infectious, propulsive track that comes halfway through Hot Chip’s fifth album – that in many ways sum up what’s In Our Heads. Somewhere between the fizzing percussion and the relentless and addictive bassline, a processed voice intones the line, “I like Zapp not Zappa”.
Although the Alexis Taylor penned words were written primarily as a reaction to ill-informed requests during the frontman’s DJ gigs, if viewed as a statement of intent for the record as a whole they speak volumes. They seem to say this record is playful yet unburdened by extraneous fuss or showiness. That this is a joyous record aimed squarely at the heart and at the heart of the dancefloor.
It’s an ideology that seems to subliminally seep through the rest of the tracks on In Our Heads. You can hear it on the opening track – ‘Motion Sickness’ – where the track seems to dizzily modulate one step ahead of the listener with every four bar loop and on ‘How Do You Do’, a celebration of the joy of life itself stretched over a backing track that sounds like a Chicago house record reinforced with titanium. It’s there throughout the seven-something minutes of ‘Flutes’ in the chopped up rhythmic chant that runs through the heart of it while the rhythm track crackles like electrical cables in heavy weather and it’s in the ocean deep melancholy of the gorgeous ‘Look At Where We Are’. It’s there in the utterly ecstatic wordless chorus of ‘Let Me Be Him’. And it’s there on the constantly evolving, Abbey Road-esque ballad ‘Now There Is Nothing’. In fact, it’s there right through the middle of In Our Heads, helping to forge something akin to the perfect synthesis of electronics and live instrumentation, a place where Alexis’ beautifully soulful vocals sit as perfectly on liquid R&B backing tracks as on songs that sound like Prince beaming back from the 31st century.
Joe Goddard: “We tried to make something joyful and alive and that’s it really. Maybe when people listen to music that’s positive and joyous they might feel like that’s cheesy in some way – for me though, I want to listen to records like Never Too Much by Luther Vandross. I don’t want to listen to a band that’s caught up in their hang-ups and problems. That’s just not interesting to me.”
Alexis Taylor: “There’s no point putting too much emphasis on the recording process but if the sound of the music is joyous, it’s because the way the record was made was entirely enjoyable.”
Without over-analysing the recording, it’s worth pointing out that it represented the first time that the band – Alexis, Joe, Al Doyle, Owen Clarke and Felix Martin – had worked collectively in a studio with an engineer (Mark Ralph).
Alexis: “Although Joe and I had each worked with Mark separately, having someone that’s not in the band as a constant factor was a totally new thing for Hot Chip.”
Joe: “It was so refreshing having someone outside of the band who could organize how everything comes together without it becoming hierarchical. In the past, I’ve been in the studio sat there at my computer trying my very best to record what someone was playing in the room to try to get it into the track. Often I wasn’t able to focus on how the actual track was sounding. This time round, I could get a much more of an objective view of what we were doing.”
As a band, they needn’t have worried about validity of ideas. At Hot Chip’s core is a unique songwriting partnership at its creative peak five albums in; a pairing that joins a very British tradition that arguably begins with Lennon & McCartney then stops to take in the likes of Morrissey & Marr and Tennant & Lowe. The songs Alexis and Joe wrote for In Our Heads were written in tandem with a massively hectic period of extracurricular activity (that includes albums by About Group, The 2 Bears and New Build as well as Joe’s solo single ‘Gabriel’). That said, there was little doubt where the songs the band were to work on collectively belonged.
Alexis: “Charles Hayward (This Heat/About Group) came in to drum on a track that I thought was really different to anything we’d ever attempted before. He immediately said, “Brilliant! Sounds like Hot Chip!” It must’ve had almost subliminal traits.”
Joe: “It’s a brilliant thing isn’t it, when a band or a producer hit a trademark sound? Whether it’s Brian Wilson or J Dilla, I’m often drawn towards producers with a complete sonic signature of their own. People who you recognize their sound straight off.”
As well as representing a change in the recording process, In Our Heads collects the band’s first recordings for a new label. Following the completion of a three album deal with EMI, the band have moved operations to what could be seen as something of a spiritual home – Domino.
Alexis: “One of the main memories I have of Hot Chip beginning is of me and Joe listening to Smog and Will Oldham records. Joe would play me tracks he’d just picked up and that’s stayed at the back of my mind the whole time. In many ways they were foundation points for Hot Chip. Domino didn’t sign us originally but they wanted to. They’ve stayed really interested in our band.”
Joe: “From my perspective, it quickly became clear that it was the right thing to do. Going into this knowing that we’ve got a group of actual friends and fans who are willing to fight for the record… That’s one of the most positive things you can have as a group really.”
So, a career best fifth album that’s been produced via an exhilarating new way of working and released by a record label made up of friends and supporters? Slots booked across the globe closing festival stages as well as a series of already announced gigs that include a sundown headline slot at the Hollywood Bowl?
Yeah. Definitely more Zapp than Zappa.