New Build

Yesterday Was Lived and Lost

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The third in a recent string of unreasonably excellent Hot Chip side projects, following About Group's Start & Complete and the 2 Bears' Be Strong -- all released within a year of one another and also, impressively, as the band were preparing their own soon-to-be-released fifth album) -- New Build is spearheaded by guitarist Al Doyle (also of LCD Soundsystem) and drummer (in this group, bassist) Felix Martin. Given its pedigree, Yesterday Was Lived & Lost holds exactly no stylistic surprises, offering a familiar blend of gently melodic synth pop and electronic dance-rock with plenty of percussive, LCD-style disco-funk workouts. Doyle may not have the undeniable personality and charisma of James Murphy, Joe Goddard, or Alexis Taylor -- though he does have a bit of Taylor's earnest sweetness. But his understated melancholia is endearing in its own right, and his subdued vocals do sometimes recall another Chip affiliate, the smooth, blue-eyed retro-soul man Grovesnor. One of New Build's most effective tactics is to juxtapose a floating, leisurely lead vocal line against a markedly more kinetic rhythm track -- be it the stirring, propulsive, double-time drive of "Behind the Shutter," the jittery, DFA/Talking Heads-style dance-punk of "Mercy," the warmly sparkling, '80s-vintage pop-funk of "Silence and the Muttering," and the gorgeously silky "Miranda (Be My Guide)" or, most audaciously and dramatically, the pumping Euro-house synths of the plaintive/anthemic "Do You Not Feel Loved." As the tempos slow toward the album's latter half, the results grow somewhat less distinctive -- "Schism of the Mind," "Finding Reasons," and the beatbox bossa "Last Gasp" toe the line between suitably somber and simply sluggish -- although these ballads serve their function, balance-wise, in context. More satisfying, if slight, are a pair of mildly silly, XTC-ish pop nuggets, "Medication" and "The Third One." But it's lead single and go-to track "Misery Loves Company" that provides perhaps the most immediate and unabashed thrills, bursting from a sturdy, workmanlike chug to an effervescent, stop-time chorus whose musical effect is similar to Doyle's lyrical description of his experience upon sighting the object of his affection: being transported to "a place where the process of thought dissolves into tiny pieces." Much more than a stop-gap substitute that will be forgotten by the time the next Hot Chip full-length comes along; Yesterday stands on its own terms as one of the finest dance/electro-pop records of the year. Either Doyle and Martin have been impeccably schooled by their bandmates in the fine art of blending melody and propulsion, humor and heart (not to mention the tasteful inclusion of steel drums) -- or else they've been some of the band's too-well-kept secret weapons all along.

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