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. -

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