Made in the Dark

Call it revenge of the nerds. Looking more like sci-fi convention attendees than rock stars, London five-piece Hot Chip began their career early this decade by channelling early-'90s funk and hip-hop, through the perspective of middle-class Londoners. This, of course, got them tagged as a novelty act, a perception corrected by 2006's seriously good The Warning, which topped critics' polls and gave them two U.K. hits. Meanwhile, Hot Chip were gaining a reputation as formidable live performers who refused to rely on laptops or sequencers, and in-demand remix artists. Made in the Dark exudes the confidence of experience -- it sounds like little if any regard was given to public expectations. Songwriters Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard indulge in nearly every musical whim that comes to them, and it nearly all works. Occasionally you wish someone had told them no: the otherwise storming dance track "Shake a Fist" stops dead in its tracks for a sampled bit of Todd Rundgren studio chatter. But Hot Chip have more ideas in any 30 seconds than most groups do on a whole album, so it's easy to cut the group a little slack. Standouts include the groovy, guitar-heavy "One Pure Thought"; "Wrestlers," a witty R. Kelly-esque slow jam that views a relationship as a no-holds-barred cage match; and the title track, as lovely and genuine a ballad as you're likely to hear this year. Maybe not what you'd expect from a group who also have a song called "Crap Kraft Dinner," but Hot Chip have come to defy preconceptions -- other than that whatever they do is worth hearing. -

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).