Published Jun 29, 2016Hot Hot Heat began their career defining what they weren't — namely, a guitar-based band. Over the ensuing years, the limits the Vancouver-via-Victoria group placed on their music eroded. Once widely associated with mid-aughts dance-punk, on their new, supposedly final album, Hot Hot Heat finally out themselves as a rock band, albeit a pop-leaning one.
Over the years, Hot Hot Heat lost much of the urgency and herky-jerk rhythms of their debut, Make Up the Breakdown, much to the chagrin of early fans. But, on Hot Hot Heat, the quartet jettison stylistic pretensions altogether in order to write their best batch of songs in a decade. There's a sense of nostalgia that permeates these ten tracks, adding credence to frontman Steve Bays' insistence that the band are indeed calling it quits (a claim further supported by the fact that the group have been inactive for the past half-decade, anyway).
Opener "Kid Who Stays in the Picture" sets the tone, as Bays reflects on friends whose paths have veered from his own, and the theme of looking back continues on songs like "Bobby Joan Sex Tape" and throbbing album closer "the Memory's Here."
Musically, the group are as far away from the screaming, keyboard-led blitzkrieg of their earliest recordings as they've ever been; even the danceable indie-rock that marked their commercial heights seems a faint memory. Rather, they now take their biggest cues from Bays' Mounties project with Hawksley Workman and Ryan Dahle. Bays' yelp is the sole remainder of the Hot Hot Heat sound of days gone by.
Perhaps they've become less a group than a writing project for the singer-keyboardist, who's carved out a far more diverse and successful career away from the band than many could have expected. In that sense, maybe it makes sense to mark their end with such a strong record. But then again, Make Up the Breakdown turns 15 next year. (Culvert Music)