Hot Chip, "Why Make Sense?" (Domino)
Hot Chip has a discreet but unmistakable contrarian streak. An English band formed in 2000 by lead singer/keyboardist Alexis Taylor and composer Joe Goddard, Hot Chip is grounded in dance music but constructs pop songs, not open-ended grooves. And its club beats carry more introspection and insecurity than escapism or simple hedonism.
On its sixth studio album, Hot Chip defies the programmed, gleaming, pumped-up artificiality of current dance music by featuring hand-played keyboards, guitars and drums from its touring musicians. This group has always glanced back knowingly at 1990s and 1980s dance music; now, it gets even more retro, stretching the timeline back to the 1970s. "Started Right" echoes Stevie Wonder, and "Love Is the Future" suggests Prince.
Part of Hot Chip's charm has been its combination of intelligence and ingenuity with a self-conscious reserve. But the cleverness remains. "Cry for You" is a forlorn love song in an electro madhouse. "Easy to Get," a tale of infatuation, cruises on a synthesizer bass line, but its guitar hops all over the place.
Hot Chip reveals how much restraint it's exercising only when the album reaches its last track, "Why Make Sense?" The lyrics ponder whether maturity brings resolve or inevitable decline, but the music promises not to mellow too much.
JON PARELES, New York Times
Brandon Flowers, "The Desired Effect" (Island)
The Killers' singer Flowers was born in 1981, just as New Wave was arriving on the shores of the American mainstream and synthesizers were being integrated into rock. That makes him too young to truly remember how it all fit together and how that musical mini-revolution unfolded on MTV.
On his second solo CD, Flowers takes the eclectic musical influences of that time and imposes his will on them. He twists Dire Straits' "Walk of Life" into the bouncy, but still guarded, pop anthem "Diggin' Up the Heart." He channels the Pet Shop Boys' freestyle phase in the charmingly mysterious "Can't Deny My Love." And he samples Bronski Beat's iconic "Smalltown Boy" for the tender "I Can Change."
In some ways, Flowers is more effective when he internalizes his inspirations. On the spare "Between Me and You," he manages to conjure the emptiness and regret from Don Henley's "Boys of Summer." But Flowers' most impressive move is in "The Way It's Always Been," where he goes from verses filled with Dylanesque couplets to a Beatlesque bridge.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday