Ambivalent Dance Music- A Review of “Why Make Sense?”

Why Make Sense? is a dance record, no question about it. But it feels at times like its unsure of whether it wants to be one at all; perhaps it’s because “dance” and “popular” music are in many circles considered to be composed of the same makeup and sometimes troublesome associative characteristics: vacuous, empty, fun, mindless, etc. If music asks us to move, it can’t ask us to think or feel.

But Hot Chip’s latest record (and their robust discography) plays out like a well thought out response to this misnomer. Movement has a purpose here beyond escapism – it’s a window to sentiment, a reflection of feelings. The dance floor on display inWhy Make Sense? is a reluctant one, a view of the action from the perspective of the guy propped up against the wall, or drunkenly slouched over the club bar, where everything can be carefully considered from a distance.

At times, Why Make Sense? bumps its way through the crowd and finds itself in the middle of things, like on opener “Huarache Lights.” It’s a rare moment for the record – one of genuine anticipation for what the night has to offer. Lead vocalist Alex Taylor croons: “When I see the beams of / Those Huarache lights / I know every single thing / Will be just right.” Each synth wobble and vocal sample is stripped of its melancholy, building their way to an anthemic drive to the dance floor. A banger in the truest sense, it’s the album’s brightest moment and among the years best songs.

But as the record progresses it settles itself into a different zone – one somewhere between night and the quickly approaching reality of the morning light. It’s afraid to fully commit to celebration, stuck in a liminal space where sounds of melancholy meet sounds of affirmation, where reluctant lyrics meet vocal samples that inspire movement. When it works, it really works – like on “Need You Now,” where a charming vocal sample and bobbing keys propel the song forward while Taylor reminds us to stay in place with his lyrics; “And if we try to stand alone / We’ll be playing with a force beyond control.” Or like the last minute of “Easy to Get,” where the song transitions from a James Murphy-esque dance pop track to a haunted symphony of downtrodden keys. The record is packed with moments of subtle brilliance, and even when it manages to occasionally get a little stale, it often finds its way back to a sonically interesting place.

That’s not to the say the record doesn’t occasionally lose its way. On tracks like “White and Fried Chicken” and “Dark Night,” Hot Chip does their best even-more-boring-and-standard-version-of-Broken-Bells impression. The further they move away from the constructs of dance and toward the played-out aesthetic of disco influenced indie-pop, the more the record becomes cliched and compromised with the trivialities of contemporary indie. It’s an aesthetic that’s not always there, but it is there nonetheless, and it leaves a bad taste in the record’s mouth.

In an interview with The Independent, band member Joe Goddard spoke on the effect that an over reliance of computers has had on contemporary music, noting that “a lot of the time it squeezes the humanity out of music,”. This fear of a lack of humanity can be noted all over the album – Hot Chip consciously bring sentiment to the forefront, creating music that inspires the listener to move and feel. For the most part, “Why Make Sense” is an achievement on both fronts.

-Vincent Acovino

This article was originally published online at the Swamp Records blog. 

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