July 8, 2016 Hot Hot Heat – Hot Hot Heat (Album Review)
According to the press release of Hot Hot Heat itself, its recently unveiled self-titled album is also its final oeuvre. If this is indeed true, then the band would surely be missed by not only its fans but also enthusiasts of New Wave-styled Alternative Rock. After all, bands with that kind of sound seem hard to come by in this era, at least in the commercial perspective. Even similar-sounding bands such as Coldplay (“Hurts like Heaven”), The Killers (“Spaceman”), and Franz Ferdinand (“Take Me Out”) are quite not causing a stir in the mainstream these days. Regardless, in the internet age, everything really boils down to a music enthusiast’s responsibility to himself, to be proactive, and look for the kind of music that he loves. If not, then he will succumb to the assumption that there is really no more good music being produced in the current time. Realizing all these, one should therefore be ready to give time and have the welcoming ears to such bands as Hot Hot Heat that continue to release new music despite the challenges that they face in today’s very competitive music industry.
Formed in 1999, in British Columbia, Canada, Hot Hot Heat currently consists of Steve Bays (vocals/keyboards), Paul Hawley (drums), Luke Paquin (guitar), and Louis Hearn (bass). The Canadian band released its debut album, Make Up the Breakdown, in 2002. It broke through commercially with the strength of the follow-up, 2005’s Elevator, which contains its perhaps most popular single, the sparkling “Middle of Nowhere.” One more album was released before the decade ended, 2007’s Happiness Ltd. Hot Hot Heat then greeted the start of the 2010s with the slightly experimental Dance Punk-stylized Future Breeds, its fourth album. And then on June 24, 2016, the seemingly struggling quartet unleashed what they claim as their final album, which continue to carry their characteristic sonic styling: angular and melodic guitar parts, cascading and bouncy basslines, New Wave-flavored keyboard melodies, dancey drumbeats, and Bays’ distinctive throaty vocal styling that harks to the likes of The Cure’s Robert Smith (“Inbetween Days”), Dexys Midnight Runners’ Kevin Rowland (“Let’s Make This Precious”), Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch (“The Cutter”), and Blur’s Damon Albarn (“Girls & Boys”).
Hot Hot Heat opens with “Kid Who Stays in the Picture,” whose dramatic intro, melancholic melodies, and pained vocal delivery sound like a foreshadowing of the band’s parting call. This is followed with the synth-soaked and jagged-rhythmed “Modern Mind,” whose upbeat Reggae-flavored bassline and catchy chorus make the song a perfect dancefloor stomper. The steady pulse of the ensuing midtempo track “Pulling Levers” slows the mood for a bit, serving as an early breather. The relaxed atmosphere flows through the slightly funky “Bobby Joan Sex Tape,” which features a good balance of Moog synthesizer and angular guitars.
The piano-led “Magnitude” is a further change of pace and vibes; still engaging, but it has a suave rhythm, and the customary guitar adlib as well as Bays’ distinct yelps are as ubiquitous as ever. “Mayor of the City” is a slightly different beast; it may recall the Britpop psychedelia of Space (“Female of the Species”) and Menswear (“Daydreamer”). And then there is the choppy and almost-Waltz rhythm and Afro-beat of the beautifully titled “Alaskan Midnight Sun,” which will seamlessly fit on a playlist that includes “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend and “The Ring Song” by The Bravery.
Perhaps the catchiest and poppiest track of the album, “Comeback of the Century” will remind the initiated of Hot Hot Heat’s lovely classic “Middle of Nowhere.” Second to the last is “Sad, Sad Situation,” standing out with its jangly guitar plucks and faint echoes of Casbah Rock and Indie strokes. Finally, the album closes with the spacey vibe of “The Memory’s Here,” which shares similar sensibilities with the previous decade’s batch of Synthpop/Dancepunk/New Wave revivalists such as Joy Electric (“May All Saints”) and Elkland (“Put Your Hand Over Mine”).
If the members of Hot Hot Heat were really serious with what they have proclaimed, then they will have left the music scene with a worthy swansong of an album; a batch of well-produced, individually distinct songs that unmistakably resonate the band’s trademark sound. CrypticRock gives the album 4 out of 5 stars.