It is a good time to be Hot Chip, a thinking-person's dance band that tries not to compromise when motivating the head, heart, feet and funnybone of its listeners. In an era where the making and receiving of music have become increasingly fragmented, individualized and accessible, the quirky, genre-bending sensibility of this English septet has been allowed to mature gracefully and commercially, in a progression similar to that of such kindred spirits as LCD Soundsystem and TV on the Radio.
Last month Hot Chip released "In Our Heads," its fifth mainstream record (as opposed to fledgling independent releases, compilations, collaborations and remixes), and headlined the Lovebox festival in front of tens of thousands of people in the band's hometown of London.
On Friday Hot Chip will play the comparatively tiny First Avenue, the first stop on a nine-day North American tour before returning to Europe.
The Minneapolis venue brings to mind the song "Down With Prince," a profane pledge of allegiance (and shameless musical rip-off) of the purple funkster from Hot Chip's first mainstream record, "Coming on Strong," in 2005. That disc also included the devastating cultural spoof "Playboy," about a posse driving a Peugeot convertible while blasting songs by indie-rockers Yo La Tengo, and "Keep Falling," an overreach for irreverence with the unfortunate line "I'm like Stevie Wonder, but I can see things."
Seven years later, Hot Chip is still having fun name-checking other performers. "I like Zapp, not Zappa/So please quit your jibber-jabber," goes the rap-talk punch line to the group's latest hit single, "Night and Day." But now, the instrumental mix is more sophisticated -- at once plush and jagged, an irresistible staccato groove -- and Hot Chip has deepened the cheeky humor by having the august British actor Terence Stamp mouth some lyrics in the video.
Like the band's previous record, "One Life Stand" from 2010, "In Our Heads" contains its share of irony-free love songs, including the classic '80s-pop melodrama of "Don't Deny Your Heart" and the soulful "Always Been Your Love." Yet there is also more overt dance fare than on "One Life Stand," including the gorgeous "Flutes," with a swelling swirl and stutter in the mix that blurs the thin line between house and techno music, and the prancing opener, "Motion Sickness."
"We've always been more of a pop band than a dance band," said Felix Martin, the DJ for Hot Chip, by phone last week from England. "Even when we've been lighthearted, we've thought about things in terms of love and relationships. The reason why it might seem more serious now is because we've basically just gotten better."
Martin credits that improvement to a relentless, open-minded exposure to new influences.
From the beginning, Hot Chip was more comfortable with a hybrid. Its founders and principal songwriters and vocalists, Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor, have contrasting styles and tastes. The talk-singing Goddard leans toward soul and R&B, while Taylor can trill up to a falsetto and is more club-oriented in his approach to rhythms. But the group members haven't remained hidebound in their tastes and preferences.
"The people we've toured with and collaborated with, like Robert Wyatt, have made a difference," Martin said. "And so have the side projects, which allow us to exercise a different muscle."
Just in the two years between "One Life Stand" and "In Our Heads," Taylor was part of the quartet About Group, which released a record; Goddard became part of an electronic duo known as the 2 Bears, and Martin and fellow Hot Chip member Al Doyle were among the electronic collaborative New Build, which also released a record.
"You come back with new inspiration," Martin continued. "Our core dynamic is designed to be restless, so we can combine new ideas in unexpected ways. It's good to exist on the margins. When you don't identify with any particular theme or genre, it makes it easier to get it right."
That dynamic was in play during Hot Chip's recently completed tour of Asia, where Martin said the group scaled down the grandeur of its forthcoming single, "How Do You Do?" with more sparse instrumental backing. Other songs will be more up-tempo than their studio versions.
In one crucial aspect, however, Hot Chip operates like a classic pop band. Only about half of the new record will be performed, with the rest of the set devoted to the group's more commercially successful singles, such as "Over and Over," "Boy From School" and "Ready for the Floor."
"That stuff is still so much fun to play," Martin enthused, "because the energy and reaction from the audience [are] brilliant."
Britt Robson is a Twin Cities freelance music writer.