The most dancefloor-friendly of Hot Chip‘s many side projects, the 2 Bears — producer Joe Goddard and his pal Raphael Rundell — helped revive early-’90s house music with their lighthearted 2012 debut Be Strong. Now that Disclosure and kindred acts like Katy B and Kiesza have spread their contemporary spin on vintage club beats all over the U.K. pop charts, the London duo return with more serious refinements.
Unlike its predecessor, The Night Is Young doesn’t feel like something Goddard cobbled together on nights off from his day job: Its peaks hit higher than the pair’s initial set and achieve Hot Chip’s level of polish. Yet rather than indulging the quirks key to that band’s appeal, the best tracks here aim for straight-ahead club soul. Lead single “Angel (Touch Me)” recalls the pumping piano of Italo house acts like Black Box.
The difference, of course, is that Rundell isn’t a wailing church-raised diva: He’s decidedly English with a conversational vocal tone, and although his phrasing here edges closer to R&B, the frisson between the 2 Bears’ influences and their execution is central to this album’s charm. Nowhere is this more apparent on “Unbuild It,” which lifts its rhythmic syncopation from a 1973 Curtis Mayfield production, Patti Jo’s proto-disco cult classic “Make Me Believe in You.” While the beats behind him sizzle, Rundell croons with cool understatement.
Before it reaches the final stretch, The Night Is Young dawdles: “Mary Mary” showcases New Age pioneer Iasos babbling cosmic hippie claptrap for no apparent reason, and similarly lengthy “Run Run” and “My Queen” lead with promisingly undulating grooves that lack a proper pay-off. “Not This Time,” however, trumps everything with the album’s most confident vocal and equally assured melody. “Tell me who is he and does he mean a thing at all to you this time,” Rundell sings with confrontational sass. They may have offered welcoming bear hugs the first go ’round, but here the pair prove themselves much more skilled at showing errant lovers to the door.