Sunday, January 20, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 6: Chromatics – Kill For Love

I’ll admit to being a bit of a latecomer to the music of Chromatics, with the 2012 album, Kill For Love, being the band’s fourth full-length studio effort, but the first to attract my attention.

When I first heard Kill For Love I was convinced it was going to be my album of the year, or at the very least something close to it. I get a bit excitable like that sometimes.

Then I decided it maybe wasn’t quite as good as I first thought, that it was probably about two or three lengthy tracks too long, and that it had too much of the dreaded “filler” content.

In truth, at 17 tracks and over 90 minutes in length, you actually get two really good albums packaged up as one.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Chromatics started life as a punk-orientated four-piece around 2001, but by 2005, only guitarist Adam Miller remained from the original quartet, and the band’s sound had softened considerably. From all accounts, the catalyst for the move to a more radio-friendly sound appears to have been the arrival of vocalist Ruth Radelet, and that of talented multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel (of label and tour-mates Glass Candy).

The album is such an eclectic mix of influences and styles it is difficult to pigeonhole the band. While the post-punk markers are obvious; dark challenging lyrics, chiming guitar, waves of synth, it lacks the directness and brevity usually associated with the genre. It feels widescreen and sprawling, in a good way. And to tag it as prototype indie* or post-punk is a little at odds with the sheer variety of instrumentation on offer (a lot of piano/keys, see cello at the start of ‘The Eleventh Hour’ etc).

I’m generally not a fan of autotune and/or the vocoder, but use of it on a couple of the more woozy atmospheric tracks on Kill For Love works well. I suspect this is the voice of Jewel, with Radelet taking care of vocals on the majority of tracks. It also gives the album a very contemporary feel, a modern twist on what is otherwise essentially a quite retro-flavoured album. Elsewhere, Radelet sings in a very nonchalant fashion, like she’s not particularly interested, or couldn’t care less. This creates a sense of distance, a lazy ambience, making it feel a little other-worldly in places.

Chromatics on stage 2012
But what really gives Kill For Love its pop sheen is the album’s glossy production, which is credited to the band itself, but if Glass Candy’s work is anything to go by, I think Jewel must have played the leading role in the studio. It never sounds anything less than immaculate, every track fastidiously pored over to create exactly the right mood.

One of the real highlights of Kill For Love is ‘Into The Black’, a cover of the Neil Young classic ‘Hey Hey My My’, which opens proceedings. Kicking off your breakthrough album with a cover of one of Rock’s definitive moments is a risky business, but these guys do it well, and it is testimony to the band’s self-belief that they would even consider such a stunt in the first place.

Other highpoints on the album include the title track, plus ‘Lady’, ‘The Page’, ‘Candy’, ‘Birds Of Paradise’, and ‘The River’. I’m not so convinced by the 14-minute album closer ‘No Escape’ though, which just sort of fades in and out without really going anywhere.

Overall, Kill For Love is a great album, and I can’t wait to see where Chromatics take things from here.

* Renowned indie streaming/download site Indie Shuffle rated Kill For Love as that site’s No.1 album of the year.

Here’s ‘Lady’ ... judge for yourself:

… and a non album track, featuring Ida No (of Glass Candy), a cover of the New Order classic, ‘Ceremony’:

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