Published Jun 14, 2019UK dance-pop veterans Hot Chip are about to release their blissfully titled new album, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, their first since 2015's Why Make Sense?. The LP marks their first time working with outside producers, and in doing so has refined their ability to create serious yet hopeful songs that deal with love and intimacy.
"Like anybody working in any kind of artistic field, you develop creative practices that really work — but sometimes you kind of revert to them really quickly without trying other options, you know?" the band's Joe Goddard tells Exclaim! in an interview over the line from San Francisco, where the band are winding down their warm-up tour ahead of the album's release.
Hot Chip were six albums into their career, says its cofounder, sometimes vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist, when they regrouped after a few years spent pursuing their myriad side projects and decided to employ Rodaidh McDonald (known for his work with the xx and Sampha) and Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, Cassius, Beastie Boys) to "push" them creatively.
"We also wanted to be presented with new kinds of equipment [beyond the] amazing amount of great gear between [the band]," he explains. The producers' suggestions of new instruments opened up further possibilities for A Bath Full of Ecstasy, a rich, warmly produced record that finds lead singer Alexis Taylor's melancholic, emotive vocals focusing on themes like the act of giving oneself over to euphoria and basking in it — but there's more than meets the ear here.
"I think there are layers to these songs in a lot of ways, and I think Alexis works really hard at there being kind of multiple meanings and multiple layers to the songs," Goddard says. Taylor's lyrical abilities are highlighted on "Positive," an invigorating number that finds him depicting a character past their prime, before the chorus juxtaposes the positivity of social connection in tandem with fears over an individual being HIV positive.
Goddard's lyrical voice, meanwhile, can be heard on two of the record's standout tracks, sonic polar opposites that tie the more languid songs on the record together with upbeat, house-inflected sounds. The latter half of the album features "Clear Blue Skies," on which he sings lead: "It is definitely about kind of broad, quite serious things — about whether there's value in love in a universe the size that it is."
"I'm kind of atheist, so I find it hard to find meaning sometimes in life, and it's kind of asking what is the point of these things that can feel so massively important in one human life: things of longing and love, and happiness and sadness. In a universe that's like a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars, what is the meaning of anything that we feel?"
A Bath Full of Ecstasy hovers between escapism and creating a sense of "togetherness and solidarity," asserts Goddard. "I think everyone is weighed down by problems that we face as a planet right now, you know? Whether it's ecological or political. It's easy to feel powerless and it's easy for that depression to kind of take over."
In bringing their music to fans across the globe, Goddard sees the group's role as to provide a "moment of respite," although he recognizes the need for direct citizen engagement.
"In a way, in this moment we really need people to not get lost in escapism, to not be kind of constantly absorbed by social media and Instagram and actually get into direct political action. Sometimes I wonder if we should be more overtly political, but I don't think it really comes naturally to us to deal with political issues in a really overt way."
It'd be a challenge, certainly; there's a built-in euphoria to their sound, especially on A Bath Full of Ecstasy, whose lively and rich sonics on the record can be attributed to working with Philippe Zdar, who the band joined at his Montmartre studio in Paris for a period of focused recording.
"The way that he works on records and mixes records, he's bold and passionate. He's really amazing at working with bass, making records feel really full and alive," enthuses Goddard. The band entrusted him with their sound, given their shared reference points — Zdar has worked on French hip-hop, house music with Cassius, and with French pop band Phoenix. Zdar's strong personality and zest for life encouraged Hot Chip, says Goddard.
"He has that amazing Parisian passion for life and for fun and food and wine. All of these kinds of joys, you really feel that when you're working with him. He's a person very in touch with his sense of joy and wonder at the world, so I think that gave us a bit more confidence."
Rodaidh McDonald assisted the group with recording in London, ensuring that the demos Taylor and Goddard had created in the latter's East London studio before inviting the rest of the band in were crafted with precision: "Rodaidh was really amazing at structuring the songs, so that it's very not overstaying its welcome, and the verse is the right length, and then you've got a chorus. You know, keeping the song moving, keeping it feeling exciting."
Goddard attributes his bandmates' pursuits outside of the band to strengthening them as a group, too: "When we come back to work together, you find that everyone has developed their skills — either as a musician or a producer, an arranger or a live player. Like, Al [Doyle] will come back from two years on tour with LCD Soundsystem and his guitar and bass playing is even better. Everyone's abilities have developed, so that's always very exciting to me. And you find that people have started working with new instruments, new synthesizers, new techniques.
"I still get a real kick out of writing songs with Alexis and with everyone in the group. I feel like everyone has a lot of respect for each other's abilities and talents still."
A Bath Full of Ecstasy comes out June 21 on Domino Records.