“I make soulless electronic pop,” Lady Gaga once said. “But when you’re on Ecstasy in a nightclub grinding up against someone and my music comes on, you’ll feel soul.” That kind of contradiction — between the mechanical and the spiritual, between isolation and connection, between escapism and meaning — is the fuel supercharging Hot Chip’s seventh album. This is music that feels hot and cold in the same moment, in the grand tradition of Roxy Music and the Pet Shop Boys. Hedonistic? Philosophical? Why not both! The bass bounces and rolls, the synths slide and skate, and the lyrics ask questions suited for a meditation retreat. “Have you left space for me in this life?” “Are you losing more than your soul?” “Why can’t my mind keep things in line?”
Every Hot Chip album is their most personal and most professional yet — it’s strange how they keep going deeper into themselves and further out into the world at the same time. But A Bath Full of Ecstasy is the first time the UK quintet has opened up their process to outsiders. French funkateer Philippe Zdar (half of Cassius, and producer for Phoenix, Franz Ferdinand and the Rapture) takes charge of the wild ruckus, while Scottish music biz whiz Rodaidh McDonald (A&R man at XL, and producer for the xx, King Krule and Sampha) handles the introspective tracks. Zdar brings the boom to the trancey freakazoid fantasy “Spell” (where trust rhymes with lust and whips and masks are mentioned); McDonald helps the floating R&B of the title track (less about drugs than a romantic rub-a-dub in the tub) achieve lift off. But then in the album’s back half they switch roles, with McDonald helping out on the propulsive “Positive” (a subtly political ask for a new mental attitude) and Zdar pitching in on “Blue Sky” and “No God,” quiet songs that swirl with dreams, dust, love and the ghost of Leonard Cohen.
The sound of A Bath Full of Ecstasy is calibrated normality giving way to all sorts of experiments and revelations. It’s clunky and smooth, a clip clop symphony of simplicity done up with complicated touches — both sonic and emotional — underneath. Hot Chip have always made songs that slip between the erotic and and neurotic, but this time out there’s another level, as the tracks slip sideways to comment on our upside down world. From the gospel preaching about peace on the opener, “Melody of Love,” to the dark images of dancing in circles “like we’re dead” in the closer, “No God,” these songs combine difficult thoughts and easy pleasures. Complicated music for strange days and nights.