London's Hot Chip has a well-deserved reputation as a stellar live act that can sell out large clubs and draw huge festival crowds, but the band has struggled to make a killer record that exemplifies its members' vast studio-equipment knowledge. Previous recordings have sounded too polished, but third album Made in the Dark is the first time the quintet has attempted to re-create its live approach in the studio. Though Hot Chip is distancing itself from the "electronic" label, Made in the Dark is a pop record by a band that knows its electronic-music history. The album opens with one of the group's best tunes, "Out at the Pictures," anchored around a delicious guitar riff Franz Ferdinand could only wish for. Fast-moving "Hold On" follows this trend, with subtle bongos complimenting the pounding bass rhythm as singer Alexis Taylor confesses he's going to heaven "if it tastes like caramel." "One Pure Thought" has a slight island vibe before transforming into an '80s synth-pop song. These little variations show Hot Chip getting a bit out of its comfort zone. A few ballads disrupt the album's energy level at times, but nothing too offensive — Taylor's quirky lyrics are always worth paying attention to. This is definitely their best foot forward to date — now where's the live album?
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