Ever since the single “Kill For Love” dropped in October of last year, anticipation was through the roof for Chromatics’ forthcoming release. It only further heightened impatience for the record that Ryan Gosling’s Drive happened to be released last fall as well, which made synth-heavy, ’80s-leaning jams that much cooler. Yet Chromatics was perfecting this sound long before it became the hip trend of the indie music world. Back in 2007, Johnny Jewel and the band turned heads with Night Drive, which essentially abandoned the previous punk tendencies in favor of the sound that now identifies and classifies Chromatics. Though the initial expectation was that Kill For Love would be released in January of this year, that month came and went with no new record. From February to the last week in March, week after week passed by as fans anxiously checked Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs for any news about the album. Adding to the anticipation was the fact that Johnny Jewel was known for suddenly dropping new albums or songs with scarce a warning, so each day seemed to bring with it a hopeful expectation of Kill For Love in its entirety. Having said all of this, the underlying question is precisely whether the new Chromatics’ album is ultimately worth the wait. The answer is simply yes.
Upon first glance at the band’s fourth full-length affair, the first noticeable detail is the length of Love. Clocking in at just around an hour and a half, the initial thought is that it will be a daunting task to fully digest and experience all of the subtleties of the record. On the contrary, Kill For Love is an enjoyable listen through and through that flowed smoothly and, well, quickly. The voice of Ruth Radelet and the production of Jewel together create a meditative mood and craft the distinct aura of nighttime all on their own. It feels as if it is meant to be taken in all at once, yet just because it may be a mood piece, that does not mean Kill For Love lacks bonafide hits. The five songs previously leaked before the official album release all exude a catchiness and appeal that instantaneously pulls the listener into the dark settings and pulsating rhythms, and those tracks remain firmly in memory long after they have played.
Sometimes when an album contains both instrumental songs and those with more conventional elements (vocals) and structures, the instrumentals can sometimes be construed as “filler” tracks. Yet the feeling on this latest record is that these certain orchestrations are essential to maintaining the framework, flow and atmosphere of the overall LP. Closer “No Escape ” evokes an epic feel that contains three distinct acts throughout its 14 minutes and seems more than a fitting end to the long-awaited musical journey of this expansive album. As for that aforementioned journey, Jewel conceives and constructs a soundscape that aims to aurally reflect the lyrical subject matter. The excellent Neil Young cover that kickstarts the record encompasses the mood that will subsequently envelope the ears of the listener for the next hour and a half. It is somber in nature, but bears a glimmer of defiance and hope amidst the darkness that causes the songs to evoke a calming, peaceful presence. Even as themes of lost love and desire spill through the vocals of Radelet throughout much of the record, intrigue and enthusiasm for each track never wanes. Perhaps this is due to Jewel’s constant attempts to stretch the boundaries of Chromatics’ sound without altering the established theme. A cello can be heard on “The Eleventh Hour” and even the much maligned auto-tune makes an appearance on “Running from the Sun.” Fear not, however, for Johnny Jewel utilizes it in a manner that only accentuates the lugubrious, despondent nature of the track. No missteps ever emerge on Kill For Love.
The music that Chromatics creates does indeed acknowledge the music of old and wears its influences on its sleeve. Yet the culmination of these elements and influences results in something new entirely. Part of the reason for this is that, contrary to some opinions, Chromatics does not merely borrow from one specific genre or time period. The music on the record, rather, draws from a variety of sounds, genres and past artists. While the record possesses a modern electronic rhythm that provides the backbone for the entire sound, its synthesizers deftly channel the ’80s. The most underrated asset of the band lies in the sultry, jazzy vocals of Ruth Radelet, which draw similarities to the voice of Nancy Sinatra during the 1970s. All of this analysis on influences and derivations of sound can be endlessly debated, but the bottom line is that no matter what technicalities or ideas may be behind the music of Chromatics, it is simply good regardless. Like the title of the 2007 album, this Kill For Love is best experienced on a night drive. 9/10