Album Picks: Hot Chip, Tanlines, Shamir, Holly Herndon, Joanna Gruesome

Posted by Billy Gil, May 19, 2015 10:45am | Post a Comment

Hot Chip - Why Make Sense?

Hot Chip’s latest album title, a sentiment borrowed from their forebears in Talking Heads, is a great guiding principle for the British electro-pop band. Their sixth studio album finds the group abandoning any art-pop pretenses as well as any desire to become overtly mainstream and produce some of its best music yet. “Huarache Lights’” synths pulse like sirens that push your ass to start moving. Over a cyborg beat, Alex Tayor sings,  “we’ve been staying up all night, just deleting the days,” instantly summoning the decadence or temporarily losing yourself on the dancefloor. Hot Chip can get a little goofy, giving a potentially heartfelt ballad the lyrical content and title of “White Wine and Fried Chicken,” but things never approach Chromeo levels of silliness, elegantly striking the balance between earnestness and not giving a shit. This serves to make their sonic mining of ’80s genres like synth-funk and house work smoothly—they’re not too self-serious to pull off such sounds while still paying adequate homage to those influences. It doesn’t hurt that the band has never sounded more confident, nor has the music sounded so strong since their breakthrough second album, The Warning, particularly as on the sublime, ethereal house track “Need You Now.” Spin it a few times and the band’s sly hooks take hold and don’t let go. Why Make Sense? makes the case that Hot Chip continue to be the best band of their kind.

Tanlines - Highlights

With Highlights, Tanlines expand their electronic sound palate to produce an immensely likable overarching pop album. Tracks like “Pieces” call out their ’80s-indebted roots with New Order-ish synthesizers and a new romantic croon, proving they still care about their fans and can appeal to them with terrific results. “Palace” sits closer to M83 with its anthemic vocals and cinematic synthesizers. But Tanlines aren’t merely trying to craft a festival-friendly electro-pop album—the duo has far too much personality for that. “Slipping Away” introduces some surf guitars for a bouncing tune that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Drums album. “Invisible Ways” scales back for a country-flavored guitar number that nicely features Eric Emm’s Bryan Ferry-ish croon. “Thinking” drums up some Detroit techno chords and beats. And “If You Stay” is radio-ready pop-rock with heart. Mixed Emotions was a stellar debut, but Highlights shows Tanlines have the songwriting smarts to stick around.

Holly Herndon - Platform

One of the few artists out there you can say is truly inventive, Holly Herndon uses her own custom digital instruments and vocal manipulations to craft wholly unique electronic compositions. On Platform, her academic-leaning pieces remain as intricate but are less challenging than engaging, filtering pop melodies through these elaborate constructions on tracks like “Chorus” and “Morning Sun.” Laurie Anderson should be proud.

Shamir - Ratchet

We’ve been anxiously awaiting Shamir’s debut since hearing the Northtown EP last year, and Ratchet does not disappoint. The electronic/house artist channels a young Sylvester or Grace Jones with his androgynous vocals on spacious nu-disco tracks like “Vegas” while he slots nicely along underground stars like Azealia Banks, FKA Twigs and Big Freedia on bouncing future-pop tracks like “On the Regular.” Like many of those artists, there’s more than meets the eye here—check out tracks like noir ballad “Darker” for the full breadth of Shamir’s vocals and scope.


Joanna Gruesome - Peanut Butter

The Cardiff noisemakers are back with a second album of candy-coated razor blades. Alanna Gruesome shifts between a roar and a murmur, the band between shimmering shoegaze chords and snarling noise on indie pop gems like “I Don’t Wanna Relax.” The only complaint is that Peanut Butter is over before you know it, but it doesn’t wear out its welcome, either—you’ll be flipping it back to Side A the second it’s done.

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Hot Chip (8), Album Picks (146), Tanlines (9), Shamir (3), Holly Herndon (1), Joanna Gruesome (4)