It’s hard to tell just what got lost in transition when Hot Chip vocalist Alexis Taylor split with partner Joe Goddard to make a solo album. Rubbed Out is certainly not a Hot Chip project, but the silly (yet inevitable) question remains: is it Hot Chip without the Hot or without the Chip? Is it neither? Is it time for something completely different?
On the one hand, it’s not fair to compare Taylor’s newest offering to Hot Chip because it isn’t Hot Chip and it’s obviously not trying to be. As a solo artist, he has different goals with this album than he would in the context of his duo. However, it is fair to compare the skills we’ve seen in his work with HC and the caliber of the instrumentation we see here.
The album opener “Fireworks” is anything but - repetitive, lyric-less, it calls to mind a 12-year-old banging keys on his father’s Casio. The next track offers up 40 seconds of redundant instrumental chord-building before Taylor enters with some pretty heavy lyrics set to nothing but a sustained synth organ. Track four, “Baby,” almost creates a Hot Chip-quality groove but never develops past the original riff. Similarly-titled “Girl” falls into the same category.
Taylor isn’t pushing the limits here, in fact, it seems more like he’s lying back on the couch, fiddling in Garage Band and sprinkling some dramatic lost-love lyrics over the top as filler. Many of the tracks just don’t have a reason be on this album - “Musical Food,” which consists of 3 minutes of slight modulations on a single note, the 30-second “O Lord,” a warbled interpretation of a children's tune, or the final song, a combination of various synth drum hits accompanied by shimmering, electronic cymbals represent this point. One would expect better discretion from a member of a successful duo with numerous studio albums. Perhaps what’s missing isn’t the Hot or the Chip, but rather the ability to edit and tweak, and, most importantly, to know which additions add quality and which add nothing.
Interestingly enough, the high point of the album comes through via Taylor’s vocal work. His ethereal sounding, seemingly robotic voice could lend itself to this type of an album if combined with more instrumental complexity. On “I’m Not a Robber,” we finally see a bit of contrast between Taylor’s swirling vocals and some instrumental counterpoints, but unfortunately, on Rubbed Out moments such as this are few and far between.
It's difficult for me to completely blame Taylor for the utter bore that this album is. Hot Chip has plenty of slow tunes with long instrumental introductions, but there is always a payoff, and for some reason, Rubbed Out never makes it to that point rather, it just drones its way from one forgettable track to the next. There is not enough variation between the songs to warrant any kind of intricate examination, and the lyrics don’t add value or distinguish the songs. It’s not quite something you should put on right before your afternoon nap, but its close.
Taylor isn’t at fault for not delivering another banger a-la Hot Chip, and he has realized at least one goal of a solo project with Rubbed Out: this thing sure is something different. But the difference here is mostly one of absence, of loss, and a lack of anything really notable. This album forgets to offer anything that feels exciting or worth the separation. Oddly enough, the more listens I gave Rubbed Out, the less I liked it. The first time through it was pleasant: inoffensive, tranquil, soothing even, but at the same time it was completely forgettable – just an hour later, I couldn’t remember any of what I had heard. And, with each subsequent play, as I paid more attention, I realized that there wasn’t anything to remember sans the spiraling electronic air that makes up this piece. When it comes down to it, Rubbed Out is too straightforward, too plain, too, well... rubbed out. For his next solo project, Taylor would do well to add a few wrinkles to the mix.
2. Plastic Man
3. Coming Up
6. I Thought This Was Ours
7. I'm Not a Robber
8. Collector's Item
9. What Good Is Love?
10. Musical Food
11. O Lord
12. I Love My Home
13. I'm Juan
15. The Big Drums of Chwodes