Why Make Sense? is modern and refined, made up of cleaner, simpler arrangements peppered with synth stings, vocal samples and less layered guitars.
After years of fruitful cult success, Hot Chip has become one of the last surviving bastions of contemporary danceable post-punk, outlasting everyone from the Rapture to their good friends in LCD Soundsystem. Now that elements of electro, mutant disco and vintage house and techno basically come standard with indie rock upstarts, Hot Chip suddenly belongs to the shrinking old guard as a watershed artist for millennial alt-rock. They could easily rest on their laurels and churn out standard jangly funk for years to come, as dedicated to their legacy as their fan base is. Luckily, Why Make Sense?, their first album in three years after career highlight In Our Heads resparked their brand, is another benchmark move for the band, this time toward sparkling pop sophistication. If Hot Chip hasn’t already monopolized indie dance rock, Why Make Sense? pushes them that much closer.
Rather than the clustered, maximalist approach of their earlier records, Why Make Sense? is modern and refined, made up of cleaner, simpler arrangements peppered with synth stings, vocal samples and less layered guitars. Album’s bookends “Huarache Lights” and “Why Make Sense?” are among the set’s busiest songs, riding on consistently building beats, ratcheting up the tension with tumbling synth bass lines and keyboard crescendos. The rest of the album is more subdued but no less invigorating: “Started Right” sits a retro clavinet line on a basic beat for a rapturous vintage pop sound, while “White Wine and Fried Chicken” and “So Much Further to Go” carve their places in the album as classically sentimental ballads. “Love is the Future” introduces a pleasantly kitschy sound to the record with gentle background “oohs” and “aahs” and a surprise, low-key guest verse from De La Soul’s Posdnuos.
Each of these songs, no matter how restrained or gaudy, thrives on solid hooks, and Why Make Sense? is one of the most purely catchy outings Hot Chip has ever crafted. “Dark Night,” the album’s most solemn track, also has one of its richest, most complex refrains, a dramatic vocal harmony balanced with subtle background vocals. But even the most quintessentially Hot Chip compositions like “Cry For You,” with its plucky synth bass and slick drum production, has its share of buoyant melodic sections. The album is clearly the product of a veteran band skilled in vibrant, infectious songwriting.
The band’s heightened level of experience even comes out in the album’s lyrical motifs: vocalist Alexis Taylor attempts to connect with a modern society drowning in interpersonal ambivalence (“When I’m with you, we’re only wasting time”) and in the end succumbs to it himself (“Why make sense when the world around refuses?”), providing a startlingly pointed arc for a funky pop record. The result is a collection of songs less ephemeral than their bright, infectious exteriors suggest, propelling the album toward a realm of smart, elegant pop music that more fresh-faced followers of Hot Chip consistently struggle to break into.
With so many of their contemporary artists either disbanded or absorbed into a fetishized ‘80s indie culture, Hot Chip remains impressively vital and singular, still capable of delivering a high-point record like Why Make Sense? over a decade in. It almost recalibrates the entire dance rock movement to a more cultivated level. It certainly sets another new standard for Hot Chip as certified pop outsiders, at the very least, and after six albums, you can’t ask for much more.