The trouble with Hot Chip is it's never entirely clear how seriously you're supposed to take them. Their music is unashamedly rooted in the pastiche of dance music styles from the last few decades but it's also put together with a great deal of care and a real desire for it to stand up on its own merits. Their sound has changed subtly over the years from the quirky electro-pop of Coming On Strong and The Warning, that set the songs' dance music style against a rough, indie style of production. But the production has cleaned up and in a development that reached it's peak with 2009's One Life Stand, it was beginning to get increasingly tricky to hear where the music they were working from ended and Hot Chip themselves picked up. It's the same issue that occurs with any piece of "self-aware" art: the more self-aware it becomes, the harder it gets to distinguish it from its influences. Call it Death Proof Syndrome. Fortunately for Hot Chip, references and influence aren't the only (or even the best) tools in their arsenal. They also happen to be supremely talented songwriters capable of crafting tight, intelligent and supremely danceable electro-pop and In Our Heads is no exception.
The album opens with 'Motion Sickness'; proof positive that they still have the power to craft songs that not only force your foot to start tapping uncontrollably but are also layered and well crafted enough to engage when spontaneous dancing is less than acceptable. (The middle of a double-decker bus on Tuesday afternoon for instance) In fact the entire first half of the album hits the mark that Hot Chip have been training their sights on for the past five albums with pinpoint accuracy. 'How Do You Do' and 'Don't Deny Your Heart' are both gloriously joyful 80's throwbacks that feel like they've been created in a lab specifically to bring a smile on the face of anyone exposed to them even for a moment. When the steel pans and percussion solo hit in 'Don't Deny Your Heart' it's so blissfully ridiculous it's as though they're daring you not to laugh out loud. 'Look At Where We Are' might be one of the most pitch perfect R&B pastiches ever written, from the Hendrix-like guitar lines and the wah-soaked background melodies to the almost un-bearably gated drum sound that drops in half way through the chorus.
Two of the albums highlights, 'Night and Day' and 'Flutes' provide the albums centre piece and are the moments on In Our Heads that sound the most Hot Chip-like, both with angular bass lines, layered percussion and gleefully oddball vocal lines that sit next to some of the more traditional sounding tracks like a cheeky younger sibling sticking their tongue out with faux petulance in the face of established conventions.
Unfortunately once the album hits its second half there aren't nearly as many surprises in store, 'Now There Is Nothing' is a surprisingly spot on Wing's send-up complete with chorus time change and saccharine chord changes. The problem is it's tough to send-up cheesy song writing without writing cheesy songs so whilst it's good for a chuckle it never really goes any further than that. 'Ends of the Earth' and 'Let Me Be Him' have the same problem; they do far too good a job of mimicking a style that they're left without anything new or unique to say. The album proper ends on an understated high note with 'Always Been Your Love', which builds slowly, hinting towards but never actually reaching a huge climax that leaves you wanting just that little bit more.
And luckily the expanded edition of In Our Heads provides just that. The second disc opens with two previously unreleased studio tracks: 'Jelly Babies' and 'Doctor', the former falling flat as it comes off as 'Night and Day' lite and the latter a ridiculously cheerful Caribbean inspired number complete with steel pans (Hot Chip
There is some interest to be found in demos that provide a glimpse into Hot Chip's writing and recording process, most of which play more like alternate but equal versions rather than working demos. A mostly instrumental version of 'How Do You Do' is a particular highlight, showing that Hot Chip are skilled enough that if they wanted to spend the rest of their careers writing straight up dance floor fillers they could do it with their hands tied behind their backs. And the instrumental version of 'Flutes' could almost have come off one of Four Tet's more recent offerings.
In Our Heads is an album that's full of idea's almost to a fault, it sounds as though Hot Chip were having so much fun making it that they forgot that the music was all eventually supposed to fit together. Particularly with the second disc where a great deal of the tracks (not to mention all of the remixes) could be thrown out without any loss to the album as a whole. As songwriters Hot Chip are better than they've ever been, the trouble is that it's starting to sound like they know it too.