Alexis Taylor is a goddamn enigma. When he's not busy reconfiguring the parameters of electro-pop in Hot Chip, he's moonlighting in About Group -- his haggard, polarizing free-jazz anti-supergroup. 'Between the Walls,' the band's third album, finds the quartet (Taylor, former This Heat drummer Charles Hayward, Spiritualized guitarist John Coxon and electronic whiz Pat Thomas) in their usual headspace: balancing clattering chaos with verse-chorus structures, teetering toward cacophony but never losing grip on reality.

'After Video' is an awkward hello handshake, kicking off the album with two minutes of aimless sonic diarrhea. But 'Walk on By' hurtles ahead splendidly, showcasing the band at their manic, majestic peak. Drums nestle into a jazz-fusion groove before exploding into kraut-rock pound; guitars flicker electricity and then vanish; keys and electronics dance into the swirl. And there's Taylor, singing in his lovably doofy funk croon.

The live-in-the-room, improvised mix gives the album a seasick unease. At any point, these songs could literally come apart at the seams, and that's both a blessing and a curse. When 'Between the Walls' works -- the crawling, Herbie Hancock-esque jazz-funk of 'All is Not Lost' or the sprawling prog of 'Untitled' -- it packs a visceral magnetism. But when it tanks, (the drunken blues stumble of 'Make the World Laugh,' the lounge-y Wurlitzer drones of 'Nightlife Sinking') it tanks like a Titanic.

But we should be glad this album exists, even if it isn't always spectacular. "What the hell is this?" you might ask yourself. And these days, how often does a band make you ask that question?

7 out of 10 rating