Before The Warning, Hot Chip was poppy, but not exactly pop; their songs had clever ideas, but were missing the pieces they needed to really make an impact. The Warning brought those pieces together with a satisfying click, making the band's music immediate as well as pleasingly off-kilter. Made in the Dark isn't quite as big a leap forward as The Warning was, but it doesn't need to be -- Hot Chip has already hit their stride, and now their pop machinery chugs along at full speed. Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard's dry wit is illuminated by neon melodies and punctuated by attention-getting beats, as it was on The Warning, but that album had clear-cut singles, including "Over and Over" and "And I Was a Boy from School." Here, it's wonderfully unclear which songs are the A-sides, aside from the brilliant lead single, "Ready for the Floor," which was the first clue that Made in the Dark was going to be something special. It builds from a rubber band bassline, piling nervy guitars, synths that sound like they were borrowed from Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz" or Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride," and a cheery yet bittersweet melody into a perfect fusion of pop and dance that is definitely ready for the floor. The rest of Made in the Dark boasts some of Hot Chip's most kinetic music, with rhythms and melodies that are just as hyper-articulate as the wordplay: it takes a special kind of perverse wit to name one of the album's most head-noddingly insistent songs "Don't Dance." "Bendable Poseable," on the other hand, is exactly as wiggly as the title implies, and its ragga-tinged spoken word bits show that Hot Chip's sound is more than bendable enough to accommodate almost any styles or influences that Taylor and Goddard want to fit into it.
Made in the Dark expands Hot Chip's emotional range as much as their musical range, swinging from the funky, pissed-off "Shake a Fist" to the stream-of-consciousness pop of "One Pure Thought," a witty, wordy gem that comes across like Paul McCartney backed by New Order. Made in the Dark's main weakness might be its ballads, but that may just be in comparison to its many energetic moments, which are so addictive that it feels like a forced come-down whenever the band slows things down. On their own terms, however, "We're Looking for a Lot of Love" is luminously sad, and the title track's heartfelt simplicity and restraint is impressive. And while "Whistle for Will" and "In the Privacy of Our Love" end the album on a strangely sleepy note, their awkwardness might make them a little sweeter precisely because they're not slick. Without these ballads, Made in the Dark would have the ruthless perfection of a greatest-hits collection; as it is, it's just a very, very good album. Hot Chip has honed their skills so much and so quickly that they're almost unrecognizable from the band that made Coming on Strong just three years before. They're still a quirky band, no doubt, but now they're using those quirks to make their most accomplished album to date.