British quintet Hot Chip have, throughout their career, concocted light, jovial, dancey indie-pop. They have transformed slightly throughout their discography, but have mainly stuck to a similar formula for much of their music. For the first time, the band has collaborated with outside producers to create the music on this album – Philippe Zdar and Rodaidh McDonald, who have worked with the likes of Cassius and Phoenix, and The xx, David Byrne and Sampha – these external directing forces help to give a group which is seven albums in a new sense of freshness by leading them to take chances. These taken chances display themselves throughout A Bath Full of Ecstasy as Hot Chip decide to lean a bit further into the influences of electronic-dance music that was found in trace amounts on their last album Why Make Sense? (2015) to build upon their highly-positive sound.
Album opener, “Melody of Love” begins with a section of ethereal electronics and light keyboards that prioritise the vocals of Alexis Taylor before the beat finally kicks in and breathes new excitement into the song. The combination of the refrain of “melody of love” being sung over circling synthesizers and synth-pop influenced drum beats that sit at the core of this song makes for an innately catchy, sweet piece of pop that sets the tone for the album nicely despite it never quite reaching a fully-satisfactory sonic climax.
The songs that stand out the most from A Bath Full of Ecstasy are the ones that expand upon, and move a bit outside of, the synth-pop and electronic music that Hot Chip have made a career of. Specifically, the tracks on which the band decides to move outside the sonic comfort zone they have built for themselves on their last six studio albums really shine above the rest. Luckily, the middle portion of this album sees the band jumping into house and dance music further than they ever have previously.
“Spell” takes a remarkably 1980s new-wave groove, gives it some space, and grows it into a fulfilling dance song. The title track, even though it is a little slower paced and sticks more closely to sugary indie-pop, has a melody that sticks in the brain like chewed Double Bubble gum on a hot summer pavement. “Echo” and “Hungry Child” are undoubtedly the two purest house tracks that Hot Chip have ever produced — two club tracks through and through that do an excellent job of placing those early-00s house influences into Hot Chip’s indie-pop modus operandi. “Positive” closes what is the album’s best run of music with an ecstatic release.
Unfortunately, while those five tracks keep the energy high and leave an involuntary grin across the faces of listeners, the last three songs on the album don’t find the same energy, and feel somewhat mundane in comparison. It certainly isn’t caused by a lack of effort – the same types of sonic landscapes exist in these as they do in the others, but they are far slower tracks and those pacing choices never feel like they pay off in heightened emotions or exciting musical peaks.
If there is something that is lost on this album are the attempts from Taylor to lyrically take listeners through the journey from hardship to exuberance. The euphoria comes through loud and clear, but the expressions of forlornness don’t hit hard enough to stick — everything is so damn bright, positive, and danceable on this album that any sentiments of darkness are completely washed away by the colours.
Hot Chip’s music has always operated in a field of positivity and A Bath Full of Ecstasy does little to change that narrative; however, more so than on any of their previous releases, the band shows a willingness to investigate more deeply into different spaces. Yes, many of the tracks here feel like they run a little past what their intrigue warrants, but many of them also carry enough joy and undeniable pop goodness that their lengths don’t bother. A Bath Full of Ecstasy is not a perfect album or an album that will shift the electronic-pop music landscape, but it certainly is a jubilant record and one that is perfectly geared to be listened to as long as the warm summer nights will last.
A Bath Full of Ecstasy is released Friday 21st June via Domino Recording Company.