On Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006, the members of Hot Chip walked onto a smaller side stage at Lollapalooza, already drenched with sweat from a sweltering Chicago summer. A few festival-goers, already drained by the heat from the midday sun, gathered in front of the barricade to rest, and in seconds, the beat was thumping and impossible to ignore.
The crowd surrounding the stage continued to grow, and by the time the Londoners started their hit “Boy from School,” many walking by couldn’t help but stop to see what all the commotion was. Every song featured drastically different arrangements, as if Hot Chip were there to prove their meddle beyond their recordings. The energy in this corner of Grant Park was electric, and those in attendance witnessed a truly extraordinary performance.
Alexis Taylor and Joel Goddard were just two nerdy dudes who bonded over their love of hip-hop, soul and dance music in high school. This bond of friendship has only grown over the years; the two know each other so well that it comes across in their songwriting. After self-releasing a handful of EPs, the duo was joined by Al Doyle, Felix Martin and Owen Clarke. They were all key to unlocking the potential of making crisp electro-pop albums that take the elements of the records they grew up loving and turn them into something the likes of which we’d never heard before. Soon, Hot Chip became a staple on the dance floor in the mid-to-late 2000s, with songs like “Ready for the Floor” and “Over and Over” reliably getting the crowd moving.
Hot Chip recently released their eighth album, Freakout/Release, giving us the perfect opportunity to put together a ranking of the band’s output from 2004 until today.
8. A Bath Full of Ecstasy (2019)
While not a complete wash, A Bath Full of Ecstasy is easily Hot Chip’s most forgettable record. It was the first time the band collaborated with outside producers, Philippe Zdar and Rodaidh McDonald, who also contributed to the songwriting process, which may explain how disjointed the record feels. What’s more unfortunate is that the album’s touring cycle was cut short due to the start of the pandemic, and the LP fell by the wayside. However, it does contain a few gems; the hypnotic “Spell” and the catchy synth-pop track “Echo” were worthy additions to Hot Chip’s canon, and, oddly enough, were written initially as songs for pop singer Katy Perry.
7. Coming on Strong (2004)
By far the chilliest and silliest record in Hot Chip’s discography, Coming on Strong should be looked at from the standpoint of how much the band has evolved since. The recordings sound raw, the lyrics get a bit blue and the band spend more than a few songs satirizing hip-hop tropes. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but Taylor and Goddard loop in cheeky references to Ween, Yo La Tengo and Stevie Wonder in delicate tones over vintage drum machines, handclaps and lo-fi synthesizers. What’s not to love about that?
6. Why Make Sense? (2015)
Why Make Sense? marks the first time the band tried to harness their live energy on an album, only spending a couple of days working out each track, but keeping the primary writing duties to Goddard and Taylor. It mirrors their love of R&B from the ‘70s and early ‘80s; the arrangements are sparse, thoughtful and less layered. That’s most apparent on “Love Is the Future,” where each additional instrument gets its own chance to shine, from a swirling synth and an upright bass to a verse from Posdnuos of De La Soul. Hot Chip get funky on “Started Right,” and the pulsating “Need You Now” is enhanced by guest vocals from singer Sinnamon.
5. Freakout/Release (2022)
Though only just recently released, Freakout/Release already stands out as a fine addition to the Hot Chip catalog. The band successfully harnessed the energy from their live show, writing the entire record as a quintet instead of the usual partnership between Goddard and Taylor. This enabled the band to experiment with the instrumental arrangements through improvisation, building on what Why Make Sense? started. “Down,” structured around a sample of Chicago funk act Universal Togetherness Band’s “More Than Enough,” is an instant Hot Chip classic, and is poised to be a staple of their live show for years to come. After Bath Full missed the mark, Hot Chip sound energized coming off the forced pandemic live hiatus that has plagued so many bands over the last couple of years.
4. In Our Heads (2012)
The album may be called In Our Heads, but it’s full of tracks that see Hot Chip working outside the box. The band’s first for Domino Recording Co. was slow to catch on upon release, but time has been kind to this truly consistent album. “Night and Day” is a single ready for the club—if everyone in the club is feeling a bit uneasy. Taylor and Goddard’s voices are pitched up and down, causing a strange effect for this frantic electro-clash bop. “Look at Where We Are” encapsulates the beauty that forms in a relationship and looking back on everything you’ve been through together. The seven-minute-long “Flutes” is unlike anything the band had done up to this point. Built on a sample with a strange time signature, the steady build of pulsating layers of synth and Casio drum fills makes for a seamless accompaniment to Taylor’s beatific harmonies with himself. The record’s climax comes in the mellow “Let Me Be Him,” a Goddard-led track that is one of the best examples of how his calm vocal tones can often push Hot Chip songs to their fullest potential. In Our Heads is experimental in ways the band hadn’t yet explored, and upon reflection, it’s an experiment that ultimately succeeded.
3. Made in the Dark (2008)
Made in the Dark is the record that propelled Hot Chip to a higher plane in the electro-pop world. The album’s fantastic singles “Ready for the Floor” and “Shake a Fist” blew up on music blogs, and were played on the decks at every hipster DJ spin that year. “One Pure Thought” begins with a groovy guitar lick before becoming a bouncy, happy-go-lucky tune, coming full circle with wailing rock guitar solos that Hot Chip hadn’t deployed in their music before. “Wrestlers” shows the band hadn’t lost their sense of humor by comparing a difficult relationship to the spectacle of professional wrestling, as Taylor sings “Half Nelson / Full Nelson / Willie Nelson.” The disco beat of “Hold On” feels like a fast-paced sequel to The Warning’s “No Fit State.” However, much like Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, Made in the Dark’s only fundamental flaw is that it doesn’t know when it needs to end. Had they cut the meandering “Don’t Dance” and the melancholic ballad “Whistle for Will,” this record might have ranked even higher.
2. One Life Stand (2010)
One Life Stand is a feel-good record, packed to the brim with warm and cozy love songs, less about heartache and more about devotion. This is Hot Chip’s Pet Shop Boys/Tears for Fears era. This is also the peak of Hot Chip layering hundreds of tracks to expand their sound, though it may have been what pushed the band to start pulling back and simplifying the sonics of later albums. “Hand Me Down Your Love” is built on an organic framework that complements its electronic elements with flourishes of strings and piano. Another gem, the title track is a heartfelt and clever takedown of the idea of one-night stands, instead linking it to the hope of lifelong commitment. It also features steel drums, which are not heard in many pop songs. On the surface, including a humous mention of playing Xbox, “Brothers” challenges toxic masculinity and bro culture by embracing friendship and the comforts of brotherly love. The band brings more love for house music, something Goddard has perfected in his solo work, to “We Have Love” and “I Feel Better.” Hot Chip stuck the landing with “Take It In,” a soulful way to end a record as warm and bright as a summer afternoon.
1. The Warning (2006)
Hot Chip’s sophomore album still sounds as fresh as it did 16 years ago and is a giant leap forward from the mellower sounds on Coming on Strong. The Warning plays with the line between pleasure and pain, following in the footsteps of Depeche Mode by tapping into the gloomy side of electronic music. The heart-thumping beat of “Boy from School” propelled the band into the public consciousness, so much so that it ended up on an episode of The Simpsons some six years after the fact.
For The Warning, Hot Chip balance the mellow vibes of their previous record with a deeper dive into electro-pop. Opener “Careful” sets a precedent for the album; its dreamy synth is quickly eradicated by a splashy vocal sample and a chaotic jumble of booming bass and trashy synth. “Over and Over,” a study in repetition in dance music, has become a classic dance track for the indie set. Erratic banger “Tchaparian” is followed by the strikingly sweet ballad “Look After Me.” “Arrest Yourself” illustrates what happens when geeky white dudes harness the sexual energy of Prince, and it works so much better than it sounds on paper.
The title track is a dreamy song led by twinkling glockenspiel—it’s also a tongue-in-cheek play on the hip-hop diss track, with Goddard giving a flat delivery of a truly violent threat: “Hot Chip will break your legs / Snap off your head / Hot Chip will put you down / Under the ground.” The album ends with “No Fit State,” a five-minute track layered with synth and plucky guitar strums that continues to gain momentum with every passing second. The Warning deserves to be set right between LCD Soundsystem’s classic Sound of Silver and !!!’s Myth Takes as an exemplary addition to the mid-2000s dance-rock canon.
Jack Probst is a writer and record collector from St. Louis. He appreciates the works of James Murphy, Wes Anderson and Super Mario. Send any and all complaints to @jackdprobst on Twitter. He enjoys writing paragraphs about himself in his spare time.