Music Reviews

Hot Hot Heat

Make Up the Breakdown

Sub Pop

I’ve come to recognize a law of diminishing returns acting pretty strongly when it comes to certain records and my reviewing instincts. A good record makes me want to think of nice things. A great record can make me actually write them down, sometimes right away. But every once in a while there’s something so overwhelmingly hypnotic that I set aside all other things and just listen. And listen. And draw a blank at what to say.

Let me tell you, I’ve been listening to Make Up the Breakdown for a while. After enthusing like a giddy schoolgirl over Hot Hot Heat’s Knock Knock Knock EP, I had qualms about whether this follow-up could live up to that promise – and an EP is always a promise. With this preamble complete, I can say, yes they do.

The formula for the band dates back to the early ’80s – a punky mix of new wave and rock, guitars, drums, bass and electric piano or organ all doing something interesting while a distinctive vocalist rips his heart out and gives you a personalized anatomy lesson. Steve Bays’ anguished tone seems to draw comparisons to The Cure a lot, but that’s because they’re deserved. The rest of the band is perplexingly creative, spinning out beautifully ornate arrangements that sacrifice nothing in catchiness. Like The Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency and I, this seems to glide from one high-energy song to another, each one unique and fascinating by itself, echoing the sparse tones of The Police here and there, or INXS’s Kick-era attention to beat (“Talk To Me, Dance With Me”) in other places. The closing “In Cairo” is clearly a tribute to The Cure, with its moody pianos and dramatic choruses, not to mention song title. On the flip side, “This Town” slips from bounce to sprint seamlessly, alternating between three completely different sections, peppy, edgy, and balls-out, but somehow fitting it all together.

But for all the hodge-podge of pieces and sounds-likes, the band is unified in one thing – they reach out and shake you, and don’t let go until you’ve woken up. This is one of those records I’ll be listening to time and time again, and speaking as a poor critic who is inundated with the Next Big Thing on a weekly basis, I hope that means something to you.

Sub Pop: • Hot Hot Heat:

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