“Pop-hip-house.” “Liquid-bmore-house-step.” “Rave-garage.” Just when you thought the UK house scene could not possibly concoct anymore arbitrary sub-genres, along frolics our faux ursine duo drafting an indietronica doctrine for world peace. “But it can sound awful if you talk about it too much,” Hot Chip and the 2 Bear's Joe Goddard tells The Guardian, diffusing the altruistic ambitions of the group's first true LP, Be Strong.
The title track is a BBC Radio chart climber for all the right reasons. Following a soulful prompt to “Give the music all your ‘lovin”, a tight 2-step polyphony of off-beat hi-hat and downbeat hand claps really starts to get your head bopping. “Some people say that music sets you free/But all my life the music has imprisoned me/Keeps me awake all night until the mornin.” A clever verse-chorus-verse to latch onto indeed. What begins to sound like a rather pedantic breakbeat suddenly percolates into a dubbed out progression of subwoofed bass drums, rhythmic vocal oscillations and deepthroat cagney shout outs to everyone from Wu Tang to Particle.
Microhouse minimalism meets carnal urges on “Bear Hug.” Glitchy as it is catchy, the opening bars leave enough breaks and spaces for playful textures that compliment Goddard’s determined pleas for tongue-in-cheek embraces. Out of nowhere the baritone is overtaken by an homage to ‘80s new wave which fades into a sublime breakdown that still hovers close to the original hook, intermittently pausing for a tonal descent when least expected. A more upbeat and tropical Maxxi Soundsystem bonus remix awaits you at the end of the album as well.
“Birds and Bees” is an ambient jaw-breaker for anyone accustomed to their earlier slew of EPs and singles. Certainly wasn’t anticipating such smooth electric guitar picking and fuzzy marimba chords coalescing into atmospherics more akin to uptempo glo-fi than UK garage. That faltering beat takes a giant leap into the foreground, paired delicately with the aforementioned interlude, invigorating both with new life. “Time in Mind” is the only other track that deviates greatly from their expected sound. Mainly because it is actually an unassuming low-key pop diddy nestled deep within, proving that they are no one-trick pony.
“The idea of a good night of dance music being a secular, group experience that can make you feel good is a necessary thing when times are hard. We’re not religious people, but as a DJ you’re always trying to create that sense of communion.” Themes for thought when we reach the last two numbers, “Get Together” and “Church.”
The former relies on alienated sub-bass and touches of garage as the foundation for muffled utopian platitudes and at times stale pop. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here I’m afraid. As you might expect, the latter lifts off via a slow overture of organ and a sample of some garbled Jamaican guru preaching Rastafarian gospel. More and more the textures germinate into an assemblage of tender tones that make rather languid lyrics sound downright Shakespearean. “Hey now/Hey now/Let’s get up together” cycles over and over again with lower pitched vocal sequences that blossom into a steel drum symphony. A welcomed innocence and levity at the end of a body of work that spans the whole spectrum of house, while making some much needed renovations of its own.