So which boy band member is Alexis Taylor?
“Sometimes they think we’re like a not very attractive boy band. Cause I say we’re making pop music and they look at me and think ‘what kind of pop group are you in?’”
Alexis Taylor’s unassuming, bespectacled face has featured on so many Hot Chip videos that it’s impossible to separate his mug from the sweaty dance music. But his quote points out how unlikely he is as a front man—and that his group has found a high level of success anyway. In a vacuum, Taylor’s wounded choir boy vocals never seemed like they could be the focal point of anything but a dour folk album. Still, with the ballroom wizardry of “Boy from School” or “Flutes,” Hot Chip’s music couldn’t work without that quivering tenor. Nevertheless, on his solo work he’s more likely to indulge in what his voice would traditionally weave in and out of: soft-pop, downtempo numbers perfect for a rainy-day cry.
After putting out Piano in 2016, Taylor’s splitting the difference between Hot Chip’s lower BPM tunes and his key-tinkering works. That’s not to say it’s all smooth electronic ballads. The sneaky experimentation that Hot Chip laced between ear worm choruses carries over to Beautiful Thing—though in a much less subtle form. Opener “Dreaming Another Life” is aflutter with jangling guitars, breathy drones and warped backwards samples suddenly interjecting around Taylor’s placid coo. “Suspicious of Me” takes keyboard cues from Spoon before rolling into a bridge that has a cascade of Taylors breaking up a rhythmic conga line by stuttering in and out of time. “I Feel You” sends its key upward like classic Beatles, but supplements its background with ghostly harmonies and sudden drops into melancholy.
Or, more accurately, it’s a brief break of joy between a haze of somber melodies. Outside of the swooning misstep “Oh Baby,” “I Feel You” is the only complete moment of happiness here. Even on Hot Chip’s most blood-pumping cuts, Taylor could sound seconds away from blubbering. And with much of Beautiful Thing grooving in the same sleepiness of Jamie Woon or James Blake’s most languid tracks, the numbers here don’t seek to move your body but sway your emotions. Even the shoulder-to-lean -on “Deep Cut” undercuts Taylor’s counseling with his trembling voice. He seems on the edge of giving up, even while trying to provide guidance. And that’s when he’s trying to cheer you up! “A Hit Song” is the most obvious Piano left over, and takes making-music-as-metaphor-for-love to a quivering conclusion. “Out of Time” is barely there at all, airy synths and “Wish You Were Here” twanged guitars popping in and out of existence over Taylor’s constant, existential questions and a chiming keyboard. “I’m more black than blue” he admits, just before the song lifts into a tranquil, but beautiful chorus. “I may as well try,” he sings, which is about as positive he gets on the back half of the album.
So which boy band member is Alexis Taylor? The sensitive one. A sad sack with a heart of gold and pipes of the same sterling quality. But on his own, he gets sucked under in a morass of teardrop-shaped pop, without the pep of his comrades. You can’t get your dance on here, just your mope.