Hot Chip Dance Through Depression on 'Freakout/Release'

BY Alan RantaPublished Aug 18, 2022

Pop music is a complex beast. It has the power to uplift or obscure, to transcend or digress. Many uncomfortable truths have been exposed over the recent past, and pop stars have a massive platform to reach the masses and shape the conversation, but as much as the world needs to face the music head on, the path of least resistance (and industry capital) often flows towards ignorance rather than revelation. With Freakout/Release, their deep and danceable eighth studio album, Hot Chip lets us have our cake and eat it too.

Immediate yet challenging, Hot Chip makes music to face reality, not to merely run from it. The title of their 2022 full-length implies explosive histrionics, something dumb to shout while driving and forget those earthly problems for a while. But the unwavering core of Freakout/Release remains a calculated, contemplative slow-motion dance floor exorcism in line with the majority of their increasingly impressive, heartfelt catalogue. One would expect no less from the new New Order, the thinking man's dance band, as they write and record in peak form at the end of days.
The title track "Freakout/Release" is a raunchy grinder that goes techno-punk with the angst of pent-up energy and subsequent expulsion. Starting off with the evocative thought "music used to be escape / now I can't escape it," the song reveals a shade of their cabin feverish pandemic trauma. Getting out there and moving your body around is good for your mental health, and most people didn't do a whole lot of that sort of thing for a couple years. The dark electronic instrumental brings to mind the rave-pop mania of Simian with a nasty splash of French house à la Justice thanks to its vocoder, fuzz guitar and sophisticated synth work.
Opening the album on a blessedly funky disco jam that exemplifies their delicate balance of ecstasy and ennui, "Down" plays on the ways people can get down, on the dancefloor and in their heads. Hot Chip are at their best when they wear those multidimensional trousers, and lines like "I'm on the edge of screaming / screaming out your name" are right in the pocket.
"Broken" fully explores the difficulty in talking about mental health. It begins with the line, "Sometimes I feel like I'm broken down and words are too much / Sometimes I think I'm coping, but I know I have no such luck." Life is often overwhelming, and perhaps this song will help people to know they aren't alone in those feelings, a concept followed in "Not Alone" with its refrain, "We need a break from this kind of heartache." Both of these songs speak to humanity's inherent psychic trauma.
Getting more political, "The Evil That Men Do" speaks against the "anti-woke" movement. Featuring a massive verse from former Edmonton poet-laureate and Polaris Music Prize winner Cadence Weapon, the choir vocals and serious vibe bring to mind '80s power ballads like "In the Air Tonight" or "Cry Little Sister" but with a fresh, post-LCD Soundsystem perspective. Doyle moonlights with James Murphy, and wrote a bunch of American Dream, so they come by it honestly.
Hot Chip remember to have fun, too. Though the album's second single was basically about how people live with the pain of existence, one of the defining moments of "Eleanor" lovingly muses about beloved wrestler/actor Andre the Giant hitching a ride to school with playwright Samuel Beckett. It could be the theme song for a family-friendly '80s sitcom with its funky guitar, staccato synth leads, heavenly vocals, and relentlessly upbeat whimsy. Sometimes things are so terrible, all one can do is laugh.
Freakout/Release tugs on the bare threads of the moth-eaten sweater of our collective conscience while leaving us dope beats to step to and good thoughts in our heads. You can practically feel the cumulative effect of Joe Goddard microdosing mushrooms, opening the window of perception a tiny crack to let some fresh air in each day. Depression has rarely sounded breezier.

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