I've already commented before that Hot Chip's last album, 2010‘s One Life Stand, left me a little cold... It felt like a band slipping through the cracks, trapped between two sounds, and whilst the result was not bad per se it just came off a little unsatisfying. In retrospect this makes some sense - Hot Chip have now split from major EMI and In Our Heads represents their first album for independent Domino.
More than any other single variable the move from a major feels like a considerable contributing factor to what is undoubtedly a return to form. In Our Heads feels like a band freed up from their own (or the label's?) image of what they should be. These songs are almost all less obviously pop than anything Hot Chip have released before. Whilst there are plenty of hooks and the trademark catchy choruses remain there are less radio friendly trick shots and more grown up songs than ever before.
Opener 'Motion Sickness' sets the pace, it's a soaring eighties ballad wrapped in early house production and it manages to achieve this without even appearing to try too hard. It's a disconcerted tribute to our complex times and music's key role in guiding us through it. And it is also beautiful - Alexis Taylor seemingly overwhelmed by his own capacity to feel, particularly when it comes to music - "Remember when people thought the world was round / everything spins on my head / on my compact disk" he sings.
Emotionally In Our Heads seems most preoccupied with the friction that exists between the heart's desire to take risks and the head's self-preservation instincts. Just listen to 'Don't Deny Your Heart', with its over-eager choruses, for example. The flip side of this feeling is the mind's inability to rid itself of the subject of the heart once it has crawled up inside and lain roots, as felt through the syrupy ballad 'Look At Where We Are' and the raw 'These Chains' - that unwillingness to move on.
This conflict keeps the album moving and culminates in the standout track 'Flutes' (which can be heard here). It's a sombre epic tale of retribution - that moment when you realise that failed relationships or emotional mis-fires take two. It builds over seven-minutes into a climatic emotional house record that calls to mind equal parts Detroit techno and Manchester bands New Order and Electronic.
For all the awkward angst of 'Flutes' the other standout is the even longer 'Let Me Be Him'. It's a wonderfully warm-hearted eighties inspired power ballad reminiscent of The Thompson Twins, the optimistic inevitable emotional rebirth punctuated by a belted out ”oh hey ho” refrain. Just try to resist joining in.
By going with their hearts rather than their heads Hot Chip have made In Our Heads one of their most complete and emotionally significant albums to date.
Stream In Our Heads on Spotify below (Spotify account required):