Review Summary: Hot Hot Heat finally remember what made them great.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
In the earlier years of the 2000s, it was easy to get swept up in the hype of post-punk revivalism. Who could blame anyone for being completely enthralled by the exciting debuts from The Strokes, Bloc Party, The Futureheads and Hot Hot Heat? It's unfortunate that in the years since, the trend's popularity has spawned countless cheap knockoffs from bands seeking to cash in on the craze. The style's initial purveyors are even guilty themselves of repackaging their sound to be more palatable for widespread consumption, and in the process, losing much of the palpable energy that made the music so much fun to begin with.
Of the aforementioned bunch, Hot Hot Heat are probably the most egregious offenders, their major label foray having led them down a conspicuously polished path toward radio-ready "alternative" rock, whatever that is. Of course, the move backfired, as most fans and critics couldn't really get behind the new music, particularly their last album, Happiness LTD
, and the songs just weren't attention-grabbing enough to latch on with a new audience. Their inevitable failure has brought them back to the indie-label fold, and if Future Breeds
is any indication, Hot Hot Heat are more than comfortable in their new home.
Anyone expecting more of the pleasing guitar lines, gentle synth accents and jingling bells of "Let Me In" will be jarred out of their seats immediately by the album's opener "Yvr". It's still based heavily in synth and guitar, but the delightfully sharp edges of Make Up the Breakdown
are back, but more importantly, the band don't sound bored with making music anymore. Looking back at these retro-styled albums, the best have been characterized by that youthful fervor that seems to stem from the unbridled joy of making music, and after a few missteps, Hot Hot Heat have recaptured that love for being a rock band.
Even when slowing things down with "21@12", the band show they still know their way around an easy mid-tempo hook, but they've gussied it up with the off-kilter rhythms and sirenlike keyboard swirls that have been all but absent in their recent work. With "Times a Thousand", they bring aboard clanging Gang of Four-like guitars, and a combination of sing-speak vocals and jagged cadence that's reminiscent of The Fall. The galloping "Goddess on the Prairie" sounds like a streamlined take on David Bowie's proto-punk glam, and unlike much of the music that might get tagged as such, it actually feels worthy of the comparison. If nothing else, Future Breeds
is varied, and as a lesson in the music of punk and post-punk pioneers, it's pretty comprehensive.
Even when the music is on the slower and stripped-down side, as on "Zero Results", it doesn't cause the album to lose any steam. It's exhilarating when Steve Bay and his band are all giddy and act as though they have so much to say and precious little time to get it all out (like they do on "JFK's LSD", for example), but there's an sense of authenticity to the album's less strident moments that demands even closer listening.
I admittedly was a little skeptical about what new music from Hot Hot Heat would be like. I expected more inoffensive New Wave-ish stuff that's likable but lacking any real excitement. However, the band are in fact back in top form, showing the pretenders how it's done and throwing their detractors for a loop. There's a legitimate electricity behind Future Breeds
that the genre sorely needs. On the title track, Bay sings, "I won't come back crawling again," and he's not kidding. Hot Hot Heat have resumed the trailblazing they began almost a decade ago, and it's great to have them back.