What a lovely group Hot Chip have become. Quietly, unassertively ? this is the most diffident of bands ? they have crept up in music's outside lane, surpassing flashier and more boastful groups, accumulating a catalogue that now stands comparison with the best English pop has offered over the last 30 years or so.
I draw the line back 30 years because In Our Heads was their 80s album. "I've been listening to quite a lot of that music," Joe Goddard told me earlier this year, when I interviewed him and Alexis Taylor. "It wasn't particularly conscious, but I guess some of the instruments on it are from that period. We used a Roland Juno 60, which was an early 80s classic, on most of the tracks on the record. That wasn't particularly conscious; it's just that was the keyboard that was around in the studio were using that sounded amazing."
That was particularly evident on Don't Deny Your Heart, a piece of music so gloriously adept in its weaving together of various strands of 80s pop, underlaid by Al Doyle's scratchily Chic guitar line. It's a song in which no element is the result of chance, in which ingredient is layered upon element, all adding some tiny lustre to the song ? from the yelps at the beginning to that punk-funk outro. Not one single second of Don't Deny Your Heart bores.
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The great triumph of Hot Chip has been to put the cratedigger mentality into the service of pure pop. During the course of our conversation about In Our Heads, they managed to refer to Harry Nilsson, Van Dyke Parks, 50 Cent, Chic, the Beach Boys, Madlib, Timbaland, J Dilla, Giorgio Moroder, the Esso Trinidad Steel Band, Pavement, Destiny's Child, the Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Prince, Oasis, Jamiroquai, Stevie Wonder, Blur, Klaxons, New Young Pony Club, Chicago juke music, Kraftwerk, Kate Bush, the Beatles and DFA. The music they love might sometimes crop up in their own recordings as direct references ? their use of steel pans comes from being so impressed with their use in 50 Cent's PIMP ? but more often it's incorporated seamlessly into their own DNA, in a belief that pop can be both adventurous and inclusive: that an indelible melody and an open-hearted lyric are not cheap tricks, but the heart of what has always made the best pop, not just the bestselling pop.
That's why the accusations that they're a musical equivalent of an archly raised eyebrow seem so very odd. There's nothing insincere about Hot Chip, with the themes of fidelity ? between lovers, and among friends ? that were developed on 2010's One Life Stand continued on In Our Heads. They sing of the quotidian experiences that are the source of our most profound feelings: the feeling of a loved one's warm skin against you as you wake in the morning; about how freedom is not all it's cracked up to be when you long for emotional security. Even the sex song, Night and Day (which comes nearest to conforming to the namedropping nerds stereotype with its mid-section Abba/gabba/Zapp/Zappa rap), posits desire not as an end in itself but as a means to a greater intimacy: "If I could be inside you, darling," may be unusually blunt ? but that use of the word "darling", an everyday endearment rather than a pick-up line, places it within a relationship, as does the desire to be "the centre of your life".
Crucial to all of this, surely, is the fact that Goddard and Alexis Taylor are both now fathers. And while Taylor told me he felt the themes of In Our Heads had been developing over the course of their career, he said it had also become apparent once the album was complete that "the joy of seeing new life" had informed their writing. And that the real idea motivating the album was "songs about optimism, songs about struggling to find a way to be optimistic".
The one thing Goddard and Taylor complained about when we spoke was cynicism. The cynicism, especially, of people who make music not because they love it, but because it's a vehicle for their ambition. What they adore, they said, is innocence and naivete in music. It's astonishing, and wonderful, that these men in their thirties ? with families and responsibilities and careers and artistic ambitions ? can make music that captures uncorrupted joy, without shirking more complex emotional terrain.
Hot Chip: the great British pop group.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk