The thinking person’s party band
Freakout/Release is the continuation of what, at this point, seems like an impossible run for Hot Chip. The British electronic pop legends’ eighth album is another dizzying peak in a multi-decade career that’s seen Hot Chip continuing to innovate and develop a rich, resonant songcraft. And while they continue to operate at peak form, Freakout/Release also feels like a new chapter for the group—a collection of flesh-and-blood songs that finds the band reaching into the darkness to emerge as a true creative unit, their gazes fixed positively on the future ahead.
Over the last 18 years, Hot Chip have established themselves among similar British luminaries like Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode—a true gap-bridging between the worlds of pop and dance music, with a catalog of songs that move bodies and touch hearts with equal impact. Following on from a dazzling four night residency at the prestigious Brixton Academy this fall, the eleven songs on Freakout/Release are evidence that the band’s not even close to slowing down—even as it’s clear that the weight of the world has seeped into these tunes’ nooks and crannies.
Freakout/Release was written and recorded in the band’s newly minted studio, Relax & Enjoy in East London, a creative space that Al Doyle put together before and during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was a space I built with making Hot Chip records in mind,” he explains. “As a group of people, we’re quite impatient—it’s not always fun when you’re in the studio and it’s taking time to set something up before you can execute an idea. Everything’s on all the time, and it’s very easy to capture what we’re doing.”
Coalescing in the studio was essential in establishing Freakout/Release’s lively, full-band sound—and it marked the first time the band was able to be in the same room together following touring behind 2019’s A Bath Full of Ecstasy, which ended right before the beginning of the pandemic. Fittingly, harnessing Hot Chip’s irreplicable live energy in a studio space was in the front of the band’s mind, as they found themselves particularly inspired by their cover of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that’s become a setlist staple.
“The idea of being out of control is always there in dance music, in a positive sense,” Doyle explains while discussing the cover’s influence on the new album. “That song feels like that to me, too, and I’m always excited to play it live.” “It was quite exciting for us to be all together—just the band and an engineer—to begin something new in a brand new space,” Alexis Taylor adds while recalling while talking about their return to the studio. “By the time we were able to be back together, we were turning on a tap and having a lot of ideas being poured out quite quickly.”
Joe Goddard describes the creative plan of attack as creating “In a natural way, without too much discussion or a grand plan.” That improvisatory vibe that lent to the creation of tracks like the groovy and expansive opener “Down” (anchored around a delightful sample of Universal Togetherness Band’s “More Than Enough”), as well as the lush, downcast “The Evil That Men Do.” Some of Freakout/Release’s songs—like the taut pop of “Eleanor,” which swings with a classic gait not unlike Fleetwood Mac’s glory days—sound positively laser-focused despite their loose-hang origins: “These songs feel like accomplished pop songs, but it was just us making music in a room,” Doyle explains. “Those moments are a testament to how we’ve developed as songwriters and musicians ourselves.”
Lyrically, Freakout/Release explores darker emotions than previous Hot Chip albums have, drawing from the personal and the political to chart the ways people survive even amidst immovable struggles. Amidst a bright backdrop and a beaming chorus, “Broken” finds Taylor emotively exploring the feeling of defeat, as well as how the people around us help put ourselves back together. “Sometimes you see friends who are really struggling with things in their lives,” he explains, “and you feel empathy for what they’re going through. We can all relate to the feeling of being broken down by things.”
Featuring a verse from Canadian rapper and recent Polaris Prize winner Cadence Weapon, “The Evil That Men Do” addresses, in Goddard’s terms, “racial tension and male aggression against females”: “We were living through a period where it was very easy to feel like people were losing control of their lives in different ways,” he explains. “There’s a darkness that runs through a lot of those tracks.”
Thankfully, Hot Chip aren’t alone while exploring emotionally uncertain territory. Along with Cadence Weapon, British DJ and musician Lou Hayter lends her vocals to the slinky “Hard to Be Funky,” while legendary production duo Soulwax contribute additional magic to the raucous title track. “We knew that song was a lynchpin for us, and we wanted to make it sound as raucous as possible,” Doyle explains. “But we couldn’t quite figure out how to shape it because it was so unruly. We were so excited to see what Soulwax did with it, and we really loved it. They pulled it together in a way where you’d only be able to do if you were outside the creative process.”
The band’s previous work with late producer and Cassius member Phillippe Zdar, who helped produce A Bath Full of Ecstasy, also served as their creative guiding light while ginning up the concoctions on Freakout/Release. “To be able to take his influence to Al’s studio helped us be ourselves—to be a band, instead of scratching our heads,” Taylor says—and Freakout/Release captures that giddy feeling of self-expression, a letting out of the tension conjured up by the world at large. “These songs take anxiety and trepidation and try to refocus those feelings towards positive release,” Doyle says, and it’s an infectious feeling that listeners will find truly irresistible.