Alexis Taylor Dropped His Phone in ‘A Bath Full of Ecstasy’
Alexis Taylor was so excited to watch a video of his friend playing a song from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory on steel guitar that he made a big mistake. He took his phone into the bath, and, well, the inevitable happened. Press phoners have been a bit inconvenient ever since.
The humor in this unfortunate submersion is all too apparent to Taylor: “The album we’re about to release is called A Bath Full of Ecstasy — and I was so ecstatic about what he played that I dropped my phone in the bath.”
Fans are ecstatic, too, but for a much more positive reason. After a four-year dry spell, Hot Chip — fronted by Taylor and schoolmate Joe Goddard — is back with a new album, out June 21.
Formed when the two met in secondary school, Hot Chip’s first public performances comprised Taylor and Goddard covering Spacemen 3 and Pavement at the school’s drama theater. Original recordings soon followed, pieced together at Goddard’s house on a four-track. These efforts eventually produced a six-track outing, 2000’s Mexico EP, and a debut LP, 2004’s Coming on Strong, via Moshi Moshi Records. Having turned heads on either side of the Atlantic, the band subsequently signed to EMI and released their critically acclaimed LP The Warning in 2006. Further deals and albums, including 2010’s One Life Stand, followed on Parlophone and eventually Domino.
It’s been a while since fans have heard anything new from the band, but Taylor assures us that it’s for good reason: they were simply tired — and eager to work on their own projects. Taylor’s output during this period included three solo albums (Piano, Listen With(out) Piano and Beautiful Thing), while Goddard released a slew of singles and EPs, as well as his Electric Lines LP in 2017. Before long, though, they were ready to work together again. “We have a special connection — a way of helping each other to do something good, bringing out the best in each other,” Taylor says of Goddard.
A Bath Full of Ecstasy is, in part, the result of Taylor getting back to his musical roots; he’s recently delved back into the genres and releases that laid the foundations of Hot Chip: house, disco and a mix of classics from Round Two, Larry Levan and Mike Dunn. The latest record derives cues from these legendary releases, funneling them into Taylor’s vulnerable lyrics and Hot Chip’s vibrant, floor-ready signature sound.
Taylor’s penchant for intensely personal lyrics is on full display here; his disaffected delivery delicately intermingling with irresistible disco melodies and floor-filling rhythms. The band is “inspired by interesting pop music,” according to Taylor, and they worked with Philippe Zdar and Rodaidh McDonald on “Spell” and “Melody of Love” respectively to further hone that sweet spot.
Philippe Zdar, who tragically passed away on June 19, was best known as half of pioneering French electronic duo Cassius, as well as for his work on Phoenix’s 2009 LP Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. Two-time Mercury Prize winner Rodaidh McDonald is known for his prolific work with XL Recordings for artists such as Adele, the XX and Sampha.
“Spell,” in particular, is pure unbridled Hot Chip at their very best — stabbing synth pads accent a brooding, floor-friendly rhythm. Taylor sings, “Now I feel your curse, it’s all I wanted,” as synths pop and swirl in seemingly eternal moment of spellbound ecstasy. The overall result is a tightly bound trip through Taylor’s musings on “people living through loss in their lives — maybe working their way through that loss by throwing themselves into other forms of pleasure like music-making or a new relationship,” he says.
The idea of throwing oneself into pleasure is the inspiration behind the album’s titular track; the lyrics “celebrate the idea of pleasure between two people… [being] lost in the moment of ecstasy,” according to Taylor. His vocal affect warbles and gurgles across the opening bars, enticing the listener to “wash away all of your fears.”
Although the title of the record could be construed as a bit druggy, Taylor asserts that that’s not the point of this album. “My lyrics are not about taking drugs — they’re more to do with a moment of shared pleasure,” he says. You’re in the bath, full of ecstasy — not in a bath full of ecstasy.
“We talked about a lot of different potential titles for the record, and that was the one I felt was most attention-grabbing — as well as nice and evocative as a phrase,” Taylor says. “It’s not crass; it’s an interesting, colorful phrase.”
As with his solo work, Taylor was very concerned with language on this record. His lyrics — direct, oftentimes intensely personal — derive inspiration from Raymond Carver, Greek poet C.P. Cavafy, Willie Nelson and Peter Gabriel. Carver and Cavafy’s works left a particular impact on Taylor. Carver’s “direct and very transparent” writing style coupled with Cavafy’s writings on intimacy provided a blueprint for his own lyrics.
When asked if writing about his emotions is anxiety inducing or cathartic, Taylor pauses. “I guess I just feel like that’s what I’m meant to be doing musically,” he finally says. “It feels like the right thing to be sharing.”
The personal quality of his lyrics is clear from the album’s outset; the opening track, “Melody of Love,” begins with the question: “Have you left space for me in this life?” Taylor’s lyricism is a trip through a deeply insightful if somewhat muddled mind; he admits as much, singing, “Why can’t my mind keep things in line/so we can trust in me?”
In keeping with his literary inspirations, Taylor’s songwriting can be blunt (“I know I can make you see the colors that I see”) and delicately coy (“I only want to be an echo to your beauty”).
He’s certainly had moments in which he questions how autobiographical to go with a song (“Is this too much like a diary and not art, artifice or construction?”), but, ultimately, Taylor’s main concern is whether his songwriting is relatable to fans.
“People who don’t really like our music often think it’s rich with irony and sort of sarcastic,” he says. “And that’s a shame, because it isn’t really. There’s a bit of a misconception about whether or not we really mean it.”
Taylor and Hot Chip do mean it. They are brimming with earnestness and A Bath Full of Ecstasy makes that abundantly clear. This album is perhaps the definitive release, representing a true honing of sound, style and craft.
“I just want to make a work of art that I stand by for the people who want to listen to it — in the order we put it in,” he says. But maybe don’t listen in the bath.
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