Jingling and Jangling
The sounds you’ll hear on About Group’s third album Between the Walls are the product of glorified jam sessions, blends of composition and spontaneous improvisation echoing and bouncing between studio walls. About Group, the side project of Hot Chip’s honey-tongued Alexis Taylor (accompanied by Charles Hayward of This Heat, Pat Thomas, and John Coxon of Spiritualized), creates music that thrives on the tensions of improv and songwriting, on sampling from genres including blues, jazz, electronica and rock to forge a nebulous new sound.
The album sets the scene with the jangling “After Video,” an instrumental introduction comprised of tinkling keys, bursts of synth, spurting drums, crashing cymbals, distorted guitars and a few hints of cowbell. Like much of Between the Walls, it’s a motley mishmash of noise, a free-spirited jam session. “Untitled,” the droning track “Graph Paper” and “Make the World Laugh” (an improvised number with light, twangy guitar playing a jazzy Spanish melody and quavering synths) all fit into this category. The ambling “Words,” likewise, features a late ’70s-early ’80s new wave disco feel, with discordant, grating synths over melodic bass and keys, and a tapestry of interweaving synth and key harmonies and disharmonies clash on the somewhat psychedelic “Yes.”
But as one might expect from a group headed by Hot Chip’s catchy synth-pop aficionado Alexis Taylor, Between the Walls is also peppered with more melodic, approachable material. “Walk on By,” an imaginative cover of the Bacharach & David song, is a groovy, sauntering blues jam with low, heavy guitars and percussion, and soulful synths. Taylor’s sweet-as-cream tenor wavers above full-bodied percussion and frenetic synths. There’s also the slow, psychedelic jam “All Is Not Lost,” boasting gospel synths, funky bass lines, and jazzy keys, and the pseudo-country ballad “Love Because,” where a moseying bluesy piano ties together a melange of clicks, whirrs, hisses, and scratches into an unexpectedly touching meditation on romance. The half-acoustic, folksy “I Never Lock That Door,” with its bubbling synths and strings, and the lullaby “If You Can’t Love Me” also take the album in a sudden, but not unwelcome, sentimental direction.
Between the Walls might take some time to grow on you—the barrage of noise, clanking, and jingling can be off-putting. But beneath the veneer of improvisation and experimentation, About Group are really melodic composers at heart.