Last year, Hot Chip frontman Alexis Taylor released his third solo album ‘Piano’ and, as its name suggested, it was a collection of tracks where he accompanied his own voice only with keys. Skip ahead a few months and he’s now developed a companion album, ‘Listen With(out) Piano’. ‘Listen…’ sees eleven of Alexis’ personal favourites responding to the original songs, which can either be heard on their own merits or alongside ‘Piano’ to create a new experience.
It’s certainly an intriguing concept, only made more fascinating by how differently each contributor has approached the task. Beatrice Dillon utilises Alexis’ voice as a basis for a deeply haunting, spiritual version of ‘Crying In The Chapel’, while both Mammalien and Betsy Taylor have taken a more a traditional route, using strings to back the original with gorgeously cinematic effects. Elsewhere, Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside intertwines his own vocals and twinkling electronica with Alexis’ on ‘Repair Man’, creating an absorbing conversational narrative.
While many of the tracks do work better when heard alongside ‘Piano’, it’s still worth hearing the album alone to get the full effect. Susumu Mukai’s glitch and drone-ridden accompaniment to ‘Without Your Name’ grates against Alexis’ soft tones in the blended version, for example, but it’s much more accessible in isolation.
Ultimately, the listener’s ability to enjoy ‘Listen With(out) Piano’ as a standalone record will be heavily determined by their own individual tolerance for cerebral, space-filled instrumental music. But as an added accompaniment to a stripped-back album, some of the arrangements here really add to the emotional weight of Alexis’ very personal stories.