Reviews of the Week: Hot Chip, Re-Up Gang
Hot Chip Made In the Dark DFA/Astralwerks
Made In the Dark is more personal, more ambitious and flat-out better than anything Hot Chip has done before. The dance-rock group's third record doesn't offer a single quite as glorious as "Boy From School" from 2006's The Warning, but as a whole it one-ups their other two releases, expanding on nearly every idea from those albums in the process. In 13 tracks, five pasty Londoners traverse boisterous rockers, dance-floor bangers, mild-mannered soul, abrasive sonic experiments and intimate balladry.
For some groups, such a far-flung set of songs would be a death knell, but Hot Chip manages to put its stamp on everything it tries here, turning the grab-bag approach into a well-rounded portrait of the artist. Forgive the culinary metaphor, but: Think of the record more as a multi-course meal than a bunch of flavors crammed together at once. It delves into a wide variety of delicacies but never ceases to sound like the work of one expert chef.
What stands out more than anything here is the gleeful abandon that seemed to go into these songs. Hot Chip has always been playful, and they seem to be having more fun than ever on Made In the Dark, taking liberties with their song structures, inserting jokes in the middle of tracks and letting loose in whatever way they please. That comfort works in the other direction as well: Never before has Alexis Taylor sounded quite so vulnerable.
Don't get me wrong; Taylor has always sounded kind of puny. One of Hot Chip's quirks is the way his proper, delicate vocal style seems somewhat out of its element on the group's more aggressive tracks, lending them the feeling of an underdog having his day. His stylings are more at home on the first-rate midtempo R&B jam "We're Looking For a Lot of Love" and the stripped-down piano balladry of the title track. The pair of intimate numbers that close out the record, "Whistle For Will" and "In the Privacy of Our Love," are superb too, though lumped together they sound tacked-on and more or less cancel each other out. That collapse of the album's previously unimpeachable flow is one of the few chinks in its armor. Nonetheless, those retreats into quiet contemplation make for some of Made In the Dark's finest moments.
But really, this album contains fine moments of all shapes and sizes. "Out At the Pictures" kicks things off with funky fervor, while "Ready For the Floor" is a prime example of the kind of melancholy electro the band does so well. "Wrestlers" recasts love on the rocks as a no-frills cage match, with a lighthearted, radio-ready backing track. And even as it's interrupted by some pointless monologue about "the sounds of the studio," the cold precision of "Shake a Fist" reminds that this band made its name on shaking asses, not breaking hearts.
Made In the Dark is by no means perfect. It's undoubtedly unfocused, and, as mentioned before, it loses a lot of momentum in the last few tracks. Perhaps other complaints could be lodged against it as well, but Hot Chip exudes so much charm as to render those flaws mostly moot. This may not quite be their masterpiece, but it's something masterful in the meantime.
Grade: A- Download: "Ready For the Floor"
Re-Up Gang We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3 Re-Up Gang Records
Since dropping their 2006 masterpiece Hell Hath No Fury, Clipse has been in constant rotation for those of us whose hip-hop consumption is limited to radio hits and whichever rapper is getting massive critical love (a healthy diet of Kanye, Ghostface and Weezy does a body good). Unfortunately for Pusha T and Malice, those who fit the above description seem to be the only ones listening. Fury was a massive commercial flop, and from the sounds of this new mixtape, Clipse and their cohorts aren't much comforted by the critical acclaim.
The third installment of the acclaimed We Got It For Cheap series shows that with or without the Neptunes' genius beats, these guys are experts at rapping about dealing drugs. But besides continuing the group's practically single-minded fixation on slinging cocaine, this set betrays more than a hint of regret about Fury's failure to move units. As much as these cats brag about their prowess at pushing drugs, Jay-Z's maxim, "I've sold kilos of coke/ I'm guessing I can sell CDs" doesn't seem to ring true here. Still, the dope game remains the primary focus, and the Thornton Brothers, joined here by Philly rappers Ab-Liva and Sandman, keep finding new, impressively creative ways to make the same old boasts.
With Pharrell and the trappings of a proper album kicked to the curb, mixtape mogul DJ Drama steps in to arrange a set of backing tracks that range from familiar Jay-Z and Kanye cuts to more obscure fare. Minus that incredible minimalist production, the focus ends up squarely on Re-Up Gang's considerable lyrical talents. The group delivers a densely packed, infinitely quotable set of rhymes, with clever allusions coming non-stop in many varieties: Biblical ("Double up on birds like Noah in the flood"), culinary ("The jewels around my neck got hues like Ben & Jerry"), athletic ("Raising the bar/ I'm Tiger with low par"), musical (""Like Pearl Jam, I kill all of my peers like Jeremy"), literary ("I'm like Ishmael with fishscale"). They cast a wider cultural net than ever, but almost all of the references come back to reasserting their dominance in the game.
Not quite everything on here is about selling drugs, though. The Gang takes some time away from boasting to stoke the flames of several beefs. They take shots at Lil Wayne (battle of the critical darlings!) and the Southern coke-rap genre, distinguishing their own nimble flows from the blunt, hulking likes of T.I. and Young Jeezy. And, as mentioned before, they express regret over their record's failure to sell. Tom Breihan points out that most of this depression emanates from Malice, whose solo career isn't taking off like his brother's. Mal's dismay could be no more apparent than when he raps about former accomplice Pharrell: "I can't wait for Skateboard to save me / My house in default, his house paisley / He's not at fault, no, not vaguely / He's on a yacht somewhere with Jay-Z."
Anyone who feared Clipse's talents would dissipate without Pharrell's knob-twiddling can take comfort in this disc. The four rappers here assert their talents thoroughly and impressively, delivering a listening experience nearly as captivating as that poorly selling, perfectly constructed LP. Maybe they will never catch on beyond critics and hip-hop tourists, damned to playing rock venues instead of hip-hop clubs for all eternity. But as long as they're operating at such a high level, they can be sure some of us will be listening, even if we're never more than consolation prizes to these guys.
Download this mixtape for free here.
Grade: A- Download: "20K Money Making Brothers on the Corner"