By: Jack Stein
Chromatics show a great deal of audacity on their newest LP, the ethereal yet sublimely immediate Kill for Love. Did they really open the record by covering Neil Young (“Into the Black”), grinding up his rustic melancholia into a pulp of synth-laced haze? They actually made an album with 16 tracks, clocking in at a colossal 80 minutes, in an era where EPs a quarter of that length test our ever-dwindling attention spans? Furthermore, who do Chromatics think they are, making neon-tinted dance tracks in the city of Portland, OR, home of vapid hyper-literacy (Decemberists) and woodsy yowling (every other band there)? For shame.
Fortunately for us, Chromatics’ gall paid off. This is a hell of a record, one that recalls sources as disparate as Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming in its sweeping grandeur and Beach House in the heartache that flows through its veins, while successfully sounding quite like neither. If the propulsive, dusk-lit-drive-through-the-city vibes recall last year’s acclaimed Drive, that’s no accident; Chromatics leader Johnny Jewel wrote a handful of tracks for the film’s soundtrack, and the same oh-so-topical themes of modern alienation and escape that Gosling and co. portrayed on screen are present here on record.
While the entire LP is a masterwork of late-night emotional detachment, the title track “Kill for Love” shines brightest through the strobe-lit darkness that the album swims in. Clocking in at a brisk four minutes, the song serves as a summation of Chromatics’ ample strengths. Teeming with solipsistic couplets (“I drank a water and I felt alright/I took a pill almost every night”, “Everyone’s got a secret to hide/everyone is slipping backwards”) destined to be scrawled in hyperemotional teens’ notebooks, the track swirls amidst its narcotic majesty before taking off into the stratosphere after the chorus, speeding synths threatening to break the Los Angeles speed limit. It truly sounds like the future, while only subtly tipping its cap in homage to the past; if there aren’t a dozen prominent Chromatics-derivative bands emerging in a couple years, I will be shocked.
What is most striking about “Kill for Love” is the contrast between vocalist Ruth Radelet’s lassez-faire, subdued vocals and the furiously pumping heart of the instrumentation. While she doesn’t sound too convincing as she coyly coos that she “killed for love”, the driving synths beg to differ. For anyone who has suffered heartbreak’s peaks and valleys, its “whatever, man” bluffing and the-world-is-ending melodrama, you know the feeling, and you now have your soundtrack.