Is there a better title for a Hot Chip album than In Our Heads? For eight years, and four albums, these dorky Brits have made some of the most earnest, loving and wide-eyed—and not to forget, best--dance music, but you get the impression that they’d have problems articulating their feelings towards the lovers and friends addressed in their songs in person. From “And I Was A Boy In School” onwards, these guys have filled their songs out with subconscious-clearing lyrics, whether that meant dropping tons of wrestling references when trying to talk about a fraught relationship (“Wrestlers” from Made in the Dark), using a love of hip-hop language to seem tough to a prospective mate (“Over and Over” from The Warning) to groveling to make a sexual relationship permanent (“One Life Stand”). If there’s a band that is completely in tune with what is happening inside of its own head, it’s Hot Chip.
The band’s fifth album, the superlative In Our Heads, comes riding with perhaps the largest amount of hype behind any Hot Chip album yet. It makes sense; the last time the band was in the public sphere, they were opening for LCD Soundsystem on that band’s farewell tour, routinely delivering a show that rivaled mentor James Murphy’s. But there’s another reason for the hype; In Our Heads is, by a margin, the best Hot Chip album yet. Where the band’s past albums struggled to rectify their opposing dichotomies—the slower, more thoughtful ballads with the ass-dislocating dance tracks—and were built around three or four potentially huge singles, In Our Heads boasts at least eight festival crowd decimators, and finally strikes the right balance between Hot Chip’s two sides.
Going back to 2004 debut, Coming on Strong, Hot Chip have known how to make an entrance, so that In Our Heads opening salvo “Motion Sickness” is one of the album’s best tracks isn’t surprising. What is is that Hot Chip have jettisoned the romantic nu-disco of One Life Stand in favor of the snare-tight locking grooves of earlier albums. Gone are the widescreen orchestrations, and in their place are the layered synths, the perfectly produced drums (this is the obvious Murphy influence), and emotionally burdened lyrics of Alexis Taylor. The stretchy bassline and distant guitar riff of “How Do You Do,” and the ‘80s new-wave, Michael Jackson thrust of “Don’t Deny You Heart” round out the album’s first third, as strong a run of tracks in a discography heavy on them.
When the band slows it down—as they always do—on “Look At Where We Are,” it doesn’t come off as an album momentum crusher like the ballads do on the band’s last three albums. Instead, it feels like Hot Chip have become the best thinking man’s party band on Earth. They can hit you with party-enlivening jams, and make you relate to spending your whole time in your thoughts like Taylor does on the mellow “Now There Is Nothing.”
The album peaks on a dance track though; the roundly uncontainable and impossibly catchy “Night And Day” is the album’s strongest track. That Hot Chip can still make perfect songs like “Night And Day” out of old borrowed parts from their discography and great legacy acts like Talking Heads and Prince speaks to their collective powers. If they can ever write a ballad that can knock you out like “Night And Day,” Hot Chip will be one of the best. For now, irrepressible albums like In Our Heads will do just fine.