Night Drive – released 5 years ago – supposedly inspired the Ryan Gosling’s vehicle Drive (oooh, punny), it’s unsurprisingly then that latest album Kill for Love immediately conjures images of a feminine yet violent neo-noir in our head. Much like how Drive subverts the machismo of neo-noir with light touches of femininity in its protagonist, Chromatics does the opposite to their genre of choice, synthy ‘80s pop, by adding their formerly no-wave ethos to the genre. Imagine post-punk dread over vocoders and italo disco.
This is pretty much the consistent thread among all releases under Italians Do It Better — synth pop neo-noir blues. With Kill for Love, Chromatics have reached unprecedented heights in synth-based music, crafting the first magnum opus of what could have been an easily maligned subgenre. Running at a whopping movie length – 90 minutes – we wouldn’t be surprised if director Nicolas Winding Refn used the album as a muse to another Ryan Gosling feminine-macho man opus.
The cinematic quality of the album is readily obvious from the opening track, ‘Into the Black’, a cover of Neil Young’s classic of the same title. As is the modus operandi of some of their best tracks, Chromatics take the blueprint left by existing classics (as they did with ‘I’m on Fire’ and ‘Hands in the Dark’) and deconstruct them into deftly handled synth pop. Vocalist Ruth has never sounded better than on this track, singing Neil Young’s words – “there’s more to the picture than meets the eye” – to pathos perfection.
Listeners who were introduced to the band through Drive will find a lot to love here. The 8-minute-long epic ‘These Streets Will Never Look the Same’, which is the album’s first male vocals-led track, and ‘Running From the Sun’ have the same appeal of Drive’s OST – even in their names. But of course this is really due to the film finding inspiration in the album than the other way round.
Pallid melancholia rules a good number of the songs on Kill for Love, instrumental track ‘Broken Mirrors’ is a soul crushing self-reflection that says what the title implies without so much of a single line of lyric. ‘The Eleventh Hour’ continues this, a dreary arpeggio through a neon-lit midnight city that mutes itself before it segues to the revelatory ‘Running from the Sun’. There’s a clear narrative to the album, you could almost imagine moving pictures foregrounding the music.
A lot of the instrumentals and vocal-scarce songs act as mood-enhancing interludes, giving extra emotional gravitas to wordy tracks like ‘Birds of Paradise’. “You’re the black sky, you’re always running from the sun,” sung with a whispery coo by Ruth wouldn’t work as well had not the lyrics referenced a song title a track before the song.
Admittedly, band mastermind/producer/multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel’s proclivity towards epic atmospheric tracks might come off as self-indulgent and too long. But this is an album meant to be listened in its entirety. Just as works of fiction in prose and film are to be experienced in its entirety before being judged for the sum of its parts, Kill for Love should be looked at the same way. And this is exactly what elevates the album above other synth pop projects, its grandiose aspirations.
LISTEN TO: ‘Kill for love’ ‘Back from the Grave’ ‘The River’ ‘Into the Black’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Glass Candy, Symmetry, Julia Holter
1. Into The Black
2. Kill For Love
3. Back From The Grave
4. These Streets Will Never Look The Same
5. At Your Door
8. Running From The Sun
9. Dust To Dust
10. Birds Of Paradise
13. The River