Just one year after the release of their Victory Garden debut, the gorgeous rainy day soundtrack Mexico, England's Hot Chip return with the cheekily titled Sanfrandisco E-Pee on their own Ringsting Recordings label.
This time around, the boys drift briefly away from the sparse acoustic melancholia of the Mexico, and experiment further with peppy lo-fi techno blips and beeps. However, the star of the show remains Alexis Taylor's effortlessly heavenly vocals, in the tradition of Nick Drake, Smokey Robinson, or Jeff Buckley, but without the sort of haughty pretension such comparisons might imply. Suffice to say, Chris Martin can only dream about having this much soul.
The album-opening title track is a surprisingly playful number that pairs quirky instrumentation with tipsy, talky vocals to great, dancey faux-disco effect while "Making Tracks" finds Hot Chip returning to the sweet acoustic techno-lite sound that propelled much of the Mexico. On "Making Tracks," a beat machine carries on quietly in the background amid shimmering acoustic guitars, which are topped off with Taylor's heartbreaking vocals, soft and gentle, as though he's singing to himself in the night, careful not to disturb the neighbors. Similarly beautiful, "Flaw" is driven by a dull percussive sound evoking the rhythm of a solemn heartbeat, as Taylor this time trades vocals with bandmate Joe Goddard, whose voice sounds equally aching and lonely, though just a bit more downtrodden, making the combination of the two singers perfect.
The boys venture into a jangly country-esque realm with "I Do," and wrap things up with another duet between Goddard and Taylor called "Fanta," which features a hypnotic chorus mantra of "Make sounds of the summer.../So sweet, you're in love now."
Those who think Beth Orton, Beck, or Portishead have the market cornered on lovely songs melding tech and acoustic pop are sorely mistaken, and would be well-served to check out Hot Chip immediately. With any luck, this outfit will start to garner the degree of recognition it deserves, soon.