Still fresh + relevant
Miles Cooke
13:19 17th August 2022

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18 years into their career and Hot Chip have nailed down a formula, becoming masters of the dance-pop niche. Freakout/Release, the group’s eighth full length offering, bursts at the seams with the killer grooves, singalong hooks and bizarro lyrics we’ve all come to expect from the five-piece. Still fresh and relevant, Freakout/Release also offers some unexpectedly candid reflections to boot.

Opening track ‘Down’ anchors around an inspired bit of sampling work, interpolating The Universal Togetherness Band’s ‘More Than Enough’ into a raw slice of soulful house. ‘Down’ taps into the visceral energy of Hot Chip's live shows, an effect the members were keen to achieve in spite of the obvious limitations placed on them over the last couple of years. Hot Chip’s cover of the Beastie Boys’ 1994 hit ‘Sabotage’ — which has become something of a live staple for the group — was particularly inspiring in shaping the sound of Freakout/Release’s livelier tracks. “The idea of being out of control is always there in dance music, in a positive sense,” says Al Doyle (via Domino) of the cover’s influence on the record. ‘Down’ embraces this idea wholeheartedly, making for an expansive and improvisational-sounding introduction.

The tone shifts quite abruptly on ‘Eleanor’, on which laidback and trim funk pop and just-the-right-side-of-squelchy synth pads build a chilled out, summery number. The song also plays host to some of frontman Alexis Taylor’s trademark oddball wordcraft, with a brief imagining of Andre the Giant and Samuel Beckett’s school run. One I’ll leave to others to decipher for themselves.

The title track ropes in veteran production duo Soulwax to lend their own dash of electro magic to its cathartic orgy of jaunty synthesisers, guitar stabs and general discordance. The central, vocoded repetitions of “Wild Beast Freakout Release Black Teeth Freakout Release” are the exact sort of nonsensical mantra that specialises in getting a festival crowd going, something that Hot Chip are no strangers to. The verses are full of agitation. They bemoan the fact that music is no longer “an escape” and express a desire for “primitive release” — whatever that may entail, this isn’t the last bit of honest lyrical introspection on the record.

Indeed, ‘Broken’ and ‘Not Alone’ both ruminate on miseries: an unsalvageable relationship on the former, and teary eyed childhood nostalgia the latter. ‘Time’ concerns a fear of ageing whilst ‘Miss the Bliss’ is the band’s take on the obligatory unsubtle COVID song.

Things get pretty dark for a band usually synonymous with fun. There is, thankfully, some relief to be found on the triple-helmed ‘Hard To Be Funky’, on which Taylor, bandmate Joe Goddard and guest vocalist Lou Hayter (of New Young Pony Club fame) trade self-deprecating silliness over downtempo, R&B inspired backing. Unafraid to address the dilemmas of making funky, sexy music when your members are pushing towards decidedly unfunky, unsexy birthdays, this is Hot Chip at their tongue-in-cheek best.

Cadence Weapon, who last year received the Polaris Music Prize in his native Canada, features on ‘The Evil That Men Do’. The rapper tears down the powers that be on probably the most outwardly political track of Hot Chip’s career, whilst choral interludes bewail the subject matter. Against the backdrop of rising racial tensions across the Atlantic and ever-increasing awareness of gender violence, it was impossible for these subjects not to slip into the record. “We were living through a period where it was very easy to feel like people were losing control of their lives in different ways,” explains Goddard in the press release. “There’s a darkness that runs through a lot of those tracks.”

Things are wrapped up with francophone EDM on ‘Guilty’ and then closing track ‘Out Of My Depth’, which works as a series of affirmations for escaping a place of inward darkness. An apt closer to a record that isn’t afraid to confront the gloom.

This far into their career it’d be foolish to expect Hot Chip to reinvent the wheel (an endeavour that would make for a big fat waste of time anyway: wheels are doing fine as they are), but they continue to broaden their musical horizons even as they close out their second decade on the radar. Freakout/Release offers an equal parts mix of radio-friendly singalong, hedonistic abandon and mellowed introspection, resulting in another triumph for a group steadily making their way towards legend status.

Freakout/Release arrives 19 August via Domino.

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Photo: Press