The third album by Hot Chip side-project About Group can be defined by something that is oxymoronic by its very nature: focused improvisation. It's the sound of Alexis Taylor, Charles Hayward, John Coxon and Pat Thomas letting their hair down and allowing their songs to find the groove on their own, but is nonetheless driven by a sense of purpose that is unmistakable.

Despite the playful experimentation that's even more pronounced than before, the form and function that Taylor's main musical vehicle thrives on remains in evidence. Opening with free-form snatches of melody and fluctuating dynamics, 'After Video' eases the listener into the album before a psychedelic guitar line leads into the mid-tempo shuffle of their version of 'Walk On By', a song which drips with an exquisite sadness.

That it's chosen to get Between the Walls going in earnest, its melancholy tone may come as a bit of a shock to Hot Chip devotees: "Make believe that you don't see the tears / Just let me grieve in private, 'cause each time I see you, I break down and cry." Taylor's voice, often clear and confident, is rendered fragile and downcast on their rendition of a classic pop song, one which strikes a markedly different tone to what we've heard from this project before.

Like many other songs on the record, it flows seamlessly into the next track,'All Is Not Lost', creating a sense of cohesion that easily dismisses the notion of About Group being just another Hot Chip excursion (along with New Build and The 2 Bears) - there's definite longevity in this project, as displayed on 'Nightlife / Sinking' and the delicate, 7-minute centrepiece 'Love Because'; they're on their 3rd album, and even though this will be Hayward's last album with the band, their latest offering gives plenty of hope to those looking forward to further material.

As sure-footed as it is - the band clearly have a greater understanding of each other than before - the album is nonetheless rooted in downbeat, emotionally-charged tracks, described as a record full of 'sad songs and country ballads'. There are some shorter songs on which the band really indulge themselves - a first encounter with the bracing, avant-garde 'Yes' may send some listeners running for the hills - but manage never to overdo it.

Side-projects can often slide into pomposity and plenty of over-egging, but Between the Walls is firmly focused upon slow jams and introspective moments. 'Words' and 'If You Can't Have Me' are its two finest moments, the peaks of an album that wears its bruised, damaged heart on its sleeve and does so proudly. About Group make music for the small hours, but on their latest effort, they achieve big results.