There's a sound on "Take Care," the first track on the American release of Hot Chip's debut full-length album Coming On Strong -- a cheap-synth shaker sound; the kind on the keyboard you had as a kid, 44 keys of piano, 44 of percussion. Just like back then, that shaker is so perfect as to be absurd: so digital that one might think an actual pellet-filled bulb is just a half-witted attempt at reproducing that sound.
And that's where the London duo of Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor comes in on the synth-pop scene: Hot Chip's pop music is deeply digital in origin, yet so warmly analog in destination as to have completed the reversal of standards begun 30 years ago.
Hot Chip is often spoken of for the ultra-white delivery of ironic booty-shake and bling-and-chrome references that Goddard and Taylor drop into their more Neptunes-inspired tunes. ("A-B-C," for example, centers on the concept that "Everybody's whistlin' the Hot Chip sound (oh!) / People hear the beat and then their bodies move around (oh!).") This is no ho-hum forehead-wrinkling of "post-ironic" rock, but Hot Chip sure isn't "irony" either -- maybe it would've been a few years back, but in the waning days of 2005, such faux-analog warmth and throatily whispered affirmations feel as sincere as the blasts of dusty air Coming On Strong belts out of a nice pair of computer woofers.
For proof, check the lineage: There are plenty of geek-pop predecessors on display on Hot Chip's sleeves, from early new-wavers (Depeche, Human League) to Brit-poppers (Pulp) and understated cult poppists (Aluminum Group, Frazier Chorus). But there's also an extremely sincere love for both modern electro-pop producers (Neptunes, Richard X) and cheese-wiz '70s songsters, from Paul McCartney -- Wings, please, not that early crap -- and Jeff Lynne to the Commodores.
Coming On Strong's finest moment is the back-to-back "The Beach Party" -- a nerd get-down of the highest order -- and "Keep Fallin'," which includes the McCartney-esque-voiced Taylor's line "I'm like Stevie Wonder but I can see things." At such moments Hot Chip manages music at once vibrantly energetic and cold-rain sad; like a whispered "hell, yeah!" or Kelis on the iPod at a winter funeral. As Hot Chip states on "The Beach Party, "Don't want all this cold cold shit / throw off your shirt / and let's get hot, hot, hot ... I've been to all the places on the block / and believe it, believe it or not / I like to rock / I like to rock, rock."
Believe it or not, indeed -- perhaps Hot Chip is the sound of the new booty-bass. But more likely, it's simply a sign of the times: Even the geeks with the Prozac want to get down while they're trying to stay up.