Joe Goddard - Electric Lines
The magic trick of dance music has always been its simplicity. And Joe Goddard, in his work with British electro-everythingandthekitchensink outfit Hot Chip, has lent a textured, sumptuous underbelly to occasionally cartoon proceedings. Often acting as the droopy, languid aperitif to lead singer Alexis Taylor’s elastic sound, it’s in solo records and side projects like The 2 Bears that Goddard’s voice and structural knack have slowly flourished.
It’s strange to think that Hot Chip formed in the year 2000. The band has done marathon laps since their early forays into noodley electronica and hum-drum New Order sketches like “Crap Kraft Dinner”, from 2004’s Coming On Strong. That sense of history is key, as on Goddard’s second full-length solo record Electric Lines we witness a shy talent dance around the moonlight of his own melodies, even as we’re often left wanting more from unfocused, or undeveloped musical sketches.
At thirteen tracks, and running just over an hour, Goddard whisks us through many of his favorite song styles. Some, like the skittish and ethereal “Truth Is Light”, recall more distant 90s roots that inspired the Hot Chip phenom. The Aphex drums hold up decades later, and it’s a treat to see space made for instrumentals throughout the album, including the blippy “Lasers” and languid, meditative “Bumps”.
Elsewhere, fiery diva samples set the scene. Album opener “Ordinary Madness” conjures a bouncy rhythm that mixes new wave gloss and glancing, dramatic vocals from English singer SLO that recall the melancholy timbre of Bat For Lashes. She reappears on “Music is the Answer”, a lead single for the album, but that same magic struggles to materialize. Goddard offers up music as an easy solution for the difficulties of the day, imagining the dancefloor as a regenerative space for diffuse emotions, but instead often gets bogged down in his own laddish impulses. Far better is title track “Electric Lines”, which makes liberal use of Hot Chip alum Alexis Taylor, his voice recalling the chilly, terrestrial melancholy of 2006’s “And I Was A Boy From School”. Taylor’s voice mutates slowly, from saddened raver to pining robot, recalling the plaintive, deceptively vulnerable moments in LCD Soundsystem’s catalog as he frets over a culture obsessed with “replacing the things from last year”. Goddard is there too, with his characteristic low, mournful drone, but it’s more than a bit telling when the standout track from this solo record is essentially a b-side from his established band.
Hot Chip aficionados will also recall the band’s winking affection for nonsense songs. Electric Lines contains a variety of them. While some, such as “Home”, make use of engaging samples and manage to conjure a sense of fun and freedom, others seem stuck in their demo phase. “Children”, particularly with its oddly warped vocals, could have marked a more experimental moment for the record. Instead it devolves into an itinerant club track, at best a forgettable Daft Punk knock-off. Ditto “Funk You Up”, which merges low-bit video game music and an awful chorus worthy of Bruno Mars, et al. Years ago, before you’d gotten the sense that Hot Chip had found a voice, they relied on crass tracks like this. Now it just smacks of laziness.
For an album that attempts to join together the diffuse strands of electronic music, its cherry-picking ethos often leaves Goddard shrouded in the background. He’ll show up occasionally, hovering around the edges of songs like “Human Heart” as a distant, mechanical presence. But even on the better songs on the album, well-produced tracks such as “Lose Your Love” and “Home”, his intention seems vague, leaving heaping samples to carry the heavy load. The album then, as so many of its extended family, never rises beyond a haphazard assortment of cuts. Some shine, some fade, and most fizzle out.