Rating: 4.5/5Any album that starts with a Neil Young cover and shifts into coke sheen is one I can get behind. Portland’s Chromatics have long enjoyed a following off of their retro-tinted Night Drive and the usage of their song “Tick of the Clock” on the Drive soundtrack helped ensure that anybody who was out buying a white jacket with a scorpion would also be picking up an album. Chromatics have been mostly dormant since 2007, releasing the moody and incredibly prescient In The City EP in 2010, but they’ve clearly been building to something like this for a while. Producer/band member Johnny Jewel has guided the band’s indie-fused synthpop style a step further- on this record they sound rich and fuller than ever, as compared to the minimalism of In the City. If that was the first dose, Kill For Love is the peak of the high, the full-body experience. Opening with a cover of “Hey Hey, My, My (Into the Black)” (best known as the song Kurt Cobain quoted in his suicide note), it’s a salvo that sets a tone of unease, of desire, of emotional uncertainty.
As the title track suggests, Kill For Love is an album firmly rooted in the idea of attaining feeling, of cohesion. Johnny Jewel has claimed in interviews that the band originally recorded 36 tracks which they then culled to 17, and those 17 he has fused together on Soundcloud for an “undisturbed listening experience.” While initially daunting, having the record play as one giant file actually helps firm up the core concept- songs bleed and slide into one another, they’re allowed to find room and finagle and breathe. Having an undisturbed flow of electronic instrumentation has a surprisingly organic effect, like the inhaling and exhaling drum machine tinkle that aptly reflects the title “Broken Mirrors,” with the tension being broken only by the stretchy synth drops. The kinetic nature of the track sequencing is aided by the unification of stems which gives the construct equal bursts of energy and unfamiliarity, a brilliant reflexive engendering.
The songwriting has never been as cogent, as confidently explorative of its space and instruments. “The Page” runs on Adam Miller’s flirtatious guitar line definitely getting some rhythm back from singer Ruth Radelet’s sultry vocals, and this gives way to the kinetic, high-pitched wail of “Lady”, whose ominous and croaky drums undercut the singing and keyboard lines like the song itself is excited and nervous to proceed. “These Streets Will Never Look the Same” kicks off immediately after with processed male singing against a churning bass with syncopated piano inserts, giving way to an elegant keyboard line that gets buried by swirly and mournful synths that dare it to get back up again . The instrumental collision that carries it out is as vivid and haunting as taillights fading on the darkest of nights. “Running From The Sun”, drenched in Jewel’s pained and digitally washed vocals and a gorgeous acoustic piano and thumping, police-knock bass, and the level of masterful synth use on this record conveys so much that a human voice might actually undercut.
Throughout the album the instruments and the lyrics plead with the listener, like Radelet’s opening to “Candy”: “Please don’t them in your heart/ Because they’ll try to put out every fire you start.” The strength, the real core of Kill For Love is the perfect synthesis between the structure and direction of songs and how well they speak for themselves before words even come into the picture. Jewel has molded stirring and vibrant portraits, music made for the twinkle of street lights on windshields. As the original planned composer for Drive, Jewel previously channeled that into Symmetry’s Themes For An Imaginary Film, but Kill For Love is the sound of what’s in Driver’s head, all the words he never spoke, delicately arranged to match his moods. Kill For Love is more than just an impressive collection of songs- it builds, it breeds, it hums along without looking back. Synthpop has been dismissed a novelty, but Chromatics have adorned a canvas that should slay that notion for good.