Something's askew in "Oh Baby," the suspiciously peppy second single off Hot Chip member Alexis Taylor's upcoming, Tim Goldsworthy-produced album Beautiful Thing.
With a production assist from his Hot Chip partner-in-crime Joe Goddard, and band members on the track, it scans as a rollicking alternate-universe reincarnation of the electronic music class clowns as a power-pop group.
"I wrote it in about the time it takes to listen to it," he tells NPR, "And the finished performance was recorded live in the studio."
"Oh Baby" plays out like a deep cut borrowed straight from Big Star and early Beatles, both of whom Taylor cite as influences for this song. Arranged atop a piano plink and a drum stomp that hold one another upward, Taylor even sounds like a dead ringer for Paul McCartney.
But there's a feeling of hesitation here. A synth scribble introduces the song and burbles beneath the surface for its duration, as if it were scribbled and hastily erased from a blank sheet of paper.
Even at Hot Chip's most unabashedly sentimental (or Taylor's past solo work, which is comprised largely of meek ballads), there's always a curveball — idiosyncratic music videos, a louche rap verse from a De La Soul member, or an extended cat metaphor — to conceal the earnest center of its work.
The music video, directed by Simon Owens, is the first clue to the song's odd posturing. Alexis Taylor's eyes drift off like levitating Mr. Potato Head pieces as he sleeps. In a sequence that plays out like a Nora Ephron fantasy by way of absurdist comedy duo Tim & Eric, his eyes find their way into a torrid rendezvous.
Somewhere into the second verse, the melody wears a little thin. The keys turn sour, each drum hit turns muted. Even the romantic lines distort into fun house mirror iterations of themselves.
"Oh, baby, when you cross your heart, make a child wanna fall apart," he posits, a grim re-write of the pining that came before it. "If I close my eyes, I know I won't lose you when I wake," an especially twinkly-eyed line, turns into a plea.
By the music video's end, the jig is up. The wandering eyes return to their sockets. The sun rises, and Taylor is all alone looking through the glass.
Beautiful Thing comes out April 20 via Domino Records.