A recent Hot Chip music video portrays a bickering bohemian L.A. couple who, mysteriously, find that the band’s single “Hungry Child” is playing on loop in their life. It follows them wherever they go—taxis, therapy—and is audible to those around them. This is torture. “I hate house music!” a passerby on the street screams, and the couple seem to agree with him.
The video is funny, but preposterous—and not just for its surreal concept. Ever since “Hungry Child” was released, in early April, I have had it on something approaching endless loop, and it’s only improved my life. Sure, it hasn’t been following me around, but the song’s so good that it’s hard not to dislike the video’s (already obnoxious) characters for never taking a moment to try to enjoy what they’re hearing. It’s almost like Hot Chip’s subverting its own song, shy about its power.
Listeners familiar with Hot Chip probably wouldn’t tag the group simply as “house music.” The U.K. quintet, which has been making music since 2000, more often gets described with an indie- or alternative- before a pop or an electronic or a rock. How to define words like alternative remains a mystery, but maybe the “Hungry Child” video offers a clue. As pure music, the genres Hot Chip works in are visceral and body-oriented. But the cultural stream it’s swimming in, the indie or alt one, has a skewed relationship to pleasure. Its practitioners are always wrestling with—inspecting, questioning, counterbalancing—the impulse to let go and dance.
Early-career landmarks such as 2006’s The Warning dreamed up idiosyncratic rock informed by R&B and rap—Destiny’s Child and the Beastie Boys were touchstones—but the band moved definitively toward disco and rave music starting with the 2012 triumph In Our Heads. In either era, bright blocks of synths have crashed and rearranged like Tetris pieces. Skippy, anxious rhythms alternate with autobahn-driving smoothness. Alexis Taylor croons in a high, understanding tremble, and Joe Goddard offers plummy, sad ballast. Often they’re singing about music itself. “Over and over / like a monkey with a miniature cymbal,” went the band’s signature 2006 single, an ode to repetition.