As probably the only dance band that can (sometimes) pull off ballads, Hot Chip have, since the one-two punch of their Warning singles (the delicate “Boy From School” and the unforgettable “Over and Over”) been engaged in an existential battle between the disparate sides of their oeuvre. Do they just abandon the DFA-beloved jocularity of their party-starting side for the slow material, or do they do the opposite and become the British version of the Rapture, relying solely on their cowbell-ed beats to get listeners interested? On the group’s third album, Made in the Dark, the band’s two sides fought, and neither won. The album was somehow overstuffed with too much of both, never finding the balance that seemed so easy on The Warning.
It’d be nice to say that One Life Stand recaptures that delicate balance, but really, it’s just as all over the place as Made in the Dark was. The mood veers between fuck-all jams and mildly tepid slow-burners that seem to exist solely so that the BPM average of the tracks here takes a serious dive. The thing One Life Stand has going for it though is its thematic cohesion. This is an album about demanding commitment (from your bros, partially, but mostly from your lovers) or at the very least hoping for it. These guys don’t want you for one night; they want you for all of them.
Before the statue crumbles in the latter half of the album, One Life Stand opens with a four-track run that is as good as (if not better) than any stretch on a Hot Chip album. Synths piled on to the nth degree build “Thieves in the Night” into a frothy frenzy before things get soulful on “Hand Me Down Your Love,” which would be able to hide in the middle of a best of ‘90s dance compilation. The symphonic “I Feel Better” suggests that Hot Chip have spent more than a few hours listening to the Hercules & Love Affair album, as their string-led disco sounds like an Auto-Tuned outtake from that set. The title track is the big winner here though; it nearly recaptures the trunk-throttling, swaggered boom of “Over and Over” with its circulating drums and cinematic synths.
The middle of the album sags under the weight of weepily melodramatic tracks like “Brothers” (which should be in the next Paul Rudd bromance picture soon), the vaguely country western “Slush,” and the meandering “Keep Quiet.” It’s not that these tracks are unlistenable, per se; they just detract significantly from the heights the band hits early on.
One Life Stand closes on a strong note, though. The shimmery “Take It In” stands in a solid middle ground between the band’s two sides, which suggests that maybe, just maybe, after two albums of being unable to decide on a coherent aesthetic, Hot Chip have zeroed in on a firm sound. If nothing else, there hasn’t been a band that’s made as good (and sometimes frustrating) music all while still figuring it all out.