Chromatics - Kill For Love

Even though the score he created for the movie ended up unused, Drive is the best thing that could’ve ever happened to Johnny Jewel. Jewel is the hazy-synthpop producer and multi-instrumentalist behind groups like the Chromatics, Glass Candy, and Desire. Over the past few years, he’s been one of the world’s leading Italo-disco revivalists, the guy whose various projects did as much to bring back metronomic synth-disco as anyone, anywhere. But those different projects tended to blend into one another, and after a few years, they’d come to seem pretty monochromatic and limited. Drive changed that. Director Nicolas Winding Refn might not have used the score that Jewel and Chromatics bandmate Nat Walker put together for the movie, but he did use a ton of tracks from the Chromatics and other Jewel-associated groups on the soundtrack, as well as a synth-pulsing Cliff Martinez score that probably owed Jewel some aesthetic debt. (And anyway, Jewel and Walker ended up releasing that unused score as Symmetry.) In Drive, Refn found a tough, luminous emotional context for Jewel’s music; of course that would be the sort of stuff that a soulfully tough romantic like Ryan Gosling’s character would listen to while making extremely skillful and daring escapes. And I don’t know if it’s because of Drive or what, but Jewel and his Chromatics bandmates sound suddenly emboldened on the new Kill For Love.

The first thing you need to know about Kill For Love is that it’s long: 17 songs, 91 minutes, ends in a 14-minute minimal-ambient instrumental called “No Escape.” Now that nobody uses CDs anymore, there’s really no reason not to make an album this long, as long as you’ve got enough material that you consider worth including. The 2007 Chromatics album Night Drive wasn’t an active-listening sort of thing; it was probably best heard as an evocative background pulse, one that would pull you in with a powerful piece of melody every so often but then release you and send you back about your business. Kill For Love works in a pretty similar way. Long stretches are instrumental, and the tick-tock beats and zoned-out vocals might get a bit boring if you were exclusively focusing on them. But that’s not how most of us listen to music, and the music on Kill For Love works in the same sort of way that Explosions In The Sky does. It fades into the background while at the same time making the colors all around us look a bit more vivid, making us feel as if we’re existing in some imaginary cinematic landscape.

Of course, that involves making extramusical brain-synapse connections. It’s no secret that Explosions In The Sky start to sound a whole lot better once you’ve been watching Friday Night Lights for a while; their winding guitar filigrees evoke the dusty Texan triumphs of the TV show that famously uses them. In just the same way, Kill For Love now calls up the glimmering, skeezy, beautifully brutal imagined Los Angeles of Drive, and I can’t quite imagine how the album would sound if I hadn’t seen the movie. But that’s really a moot point. If you haven’t seen Drive, what the fuck are you waiting for? See Drive! It’s great! Then listen to Kill For Love.

That said, though, Kill For Love has more stylistic sprawl that any Jewel-affiliated album I’ve ever heard. The album opens with “Into The Black,” the group’s the group’s confident and mostly synth-free cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My (Into The Black).” That’s a ballsy statement cover if ever there was one. “Hey Hey My My” is one of Young’s best songs, and it’s also a heartbroken elegy for punk’s past promise — and for extra associative points, it’s the song that Kurt Cobain quoted in his suicide note. In opening their vast 90-minute album by quoting that song, Chromatics are letting us know that they’re doing things bigger than before, and that they’re not considering anything sacred. And though they never do anything nearly that brazen again, Chromatics do draw themselves a bigger map than they’ve done before. The title track is an optimistic New Order sigh. “Streets Will Never Look The Same” is robotically Stardusty electro-soul. “Broken Mirrors” is the sort of icy instrumental pulse that Michael Mann used to use on his early-’80s soundtracks — exactly the sort of thing that Refn was paying tribute to in Drive in the first place.

Of course, plenty of the tracks here show that they can still do that old-school keyboard-droning Italo thump just fine, but those variations make a big difference. The final product still blurs into the background and helps you feel like you’re living in a movie, but those tracks give you the emotional cues that movies sometimes need. And this should go without saying, but it’s best heard at night, while you’re driving.

Kill For Love is out now on Italians Do It Better. Stream it below:

Other notable albums out this week:
• Beloved Bay Area rap godfather E-40′s massive three-album series The Block Brochure: Welcome To The Soil, which effectively disqualified itself from this column by being too much music for any human being to process in time.
• Meshuggah’s jittery, juddery math-metal opus Koloss.
• Mirel Wagner’s stark, haunted self-titled album.
• THEEsatisfaction’s chopped-up neo-soul debut awE NaturalE.
• The self-titled debut from Damon Albarn, Flea, and Tony Allen’s Rocket Juice And The Moon project.
• La Sera’s soft-glowing garage-pop effort Sees The Light.
• The Mars Volta’s heady prog thrashout Noctourniquet.
• Miike Snow’s glossy Swede-pop LP Happy To You.
• Oberhofer’s highly-touted bedroom-pop debut Time Capsules II.
• The self-titled album from Portishead producer Geoff Barrow’s indie-rap side project Quakers.

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Comments (35)
  1. Album of the Year: Chromatics “Kill For Love”

    FTFY

    • I’m going to have to second this. I bought the album on itunes on my phone before I left work tonight so I could listen to it on my night drive home as instructed in the above write up. It was pretty damned satisfying. This is my fav album of the year so far and I think Lady is my favorite track.

  2. As fun as it’s been arguing about Lana Del Rey and Skrillex(not being sarcastic, this was actually fun) it is cool that we are getting deep enough into the year that some really good music is starting to trickle out.

  3. Love the chromatics and this sounds great, but anyone else notice the blatant Neil Young guitar ripoff on Into the Black? Rust never sleeps, yo.

  4. Sarcasm… learn it, know it, live it, yo.

  5. While I can certainly appreciate the Chromatics style, and I am not opposed to the narrative of Drive, the soundtrack was jarringly out of place in that movie. Also, it was a “B” movie. It was clearly meant to be. It was not fantastic, breathtaking, riveting, or really all that innovative. The songs divorced from the movie are okay songs. The movie divorced from the soundtrack is an okay movie. Both together diminished my enjoyment of either. I found the film much better muted, because listening to Ron Pearlman try to be a badguy by using the word “fuck” as many times as possible didn’t really convince me. Albert Brooks is so much more menacing, despite being much less scary of a guy. You can’t really go completely wrong with Gosling, but he is definitely the clay-in-the-hands-of-the-director type actor. Not his best.

    Let’s be honest about the music. It’s good in places. The level of quality of the music matches the level of quality of the film. I’m not sure that a 14-minute stretch is really all that enjoyable unless I am really focused on wanting to like it. A Chromatics song popping up on iTunes now and again is pleasant, but let’s don’t go crazy with the superlatives. Definitely seems the cream of the crop this week, but not “album of the year” worthy by a stretch.

    • I’ll take the bait.

      Chromatics aesthetic is only part of the reason why I love this album. The reason i think it is the album to beat this year is because of how well they succeeded in perfecting that aesthetic. Every second of this album sounds so labored over that it is no wonder it’s been 5 years since the last Chromatics album.

      What is that aesthetic? Night Driving. Look no further than their first album and Drive as evidence. I think Tom is right that Drive was one of the best things to happen to Italians Do It Better. It was quite possibly the movie that Johnny Jewel and Co. had been dreaming of while crafting their catalogue of music.

      You specifically point out album closer “No Escape” and I think you miss the point. By the time you reach “No Escape” the album has been playing for over an hour already. The song isn’t meant to be some sort of grand climactic conclusion (Example: “Cop Shoot Cop…”) but instead a caring and compassionate goodbye. I interpret the 14-minute closer as a slow fade out, a death of sorts (it sure does sound like a heart beating in the middle of the track). The album is called KILL for Love, after all.

      Other reasons I think this album is so important:

      –All the music videos that were filmed over a year ago. Reminds me of how Fever Ray kept releasing videos for most of the songs on her album. I like it when bands do this and I think it’s what future music fans will come to expect from new artists. The way Chromatics leaked the songs to us through music videos is something I think deserves great applause.

      –The lengthy mastering process. Listen to “Birds of Paradise” again and marvel at god knows what analogue technique they used to make it sounds like it’s playing off an old record player in a dusty room. The oh so subtle needle-on-the-record pop at the beginning of the album before the guitar comes in. This album is chock full of beautiful subtlties that I intend to explore over the coming months.

      –”There’s A Light Out On The Horizon” — that song. Wow. Somebody needs to rap over that. Lil B? Seriously. One of the engaging beats I’ve heard in awhile.

      The grand scope of this album, being too long to burn on a CD and all, is what impresses me the most. Here in the year 2012 when not even Radiohead can be bothered to crank out an album longer than 40 minutes, it’s refreshing to get an album that rivals Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me in length (One of many albums Kill For Love brings to mind [That Cover? Loveless? Anyone?])

      TL;DR I Komment For Love

    • “The soundtrack was jarringly out of place in that movie.”

      I thought that was the point.

    • I have to disagree.

      Pearlman wasn’t supposed to be menacing. If you want to see Pearlman do menacing, watch Sons of Anarchy. Pearlman based his character around the idea of a “Jewish mobster working for the Italians, but he doesn’t get the respect he feels he deserves, so he acts out.” He was an intentional caricature of bad guy macho posturing, and his neuroses were what led to everyone dying.

      I would also say that the movie is a “B movie” in the same way Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man is a B movie — they’re both homaging cheap car chase action trash and crime thrillers, but they’re done in a way that neither could ever be seen as B movies beyond their influences. This was also mired in art house sensibilities, from the soundtrack to the art direction and costume design. I’d also compare it to David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, which marries the same sort of low brow B movie pedigree with high brow art house direction.

      • If the album is good in its own right, then there needn’t be superfluous references to a movie in the review. I understand the need to provide points of reference and “connect the dots”, so to speak, especially given the length of time between the release of this and the previous album. Here, however, there is more of a “people thought the movie was cool, this is like the movie soundtrack, therefore the album is cool” argument. Each of the five paragraphs uses pop culture references to validate this album. The music itself should validate the album (and I think that it does so just fine). My criticism is not of the music, it is of the editorial technique designed to persuade me that I like the music.

        Raptor, all points taken (and well-made), and I can’t disagree with any of your perspectives. However, voting for this as your album of the year is a bit different than voting for it as the album of the year. Giving anything an “of the year” title necessarily means that it transcends a niche. Here I’m lead to believe that I can best enjoy this album while driving at night. That is a fairly specific set of circumstances to apply to a “great” album. An apt metaphor is visiting a high-end restaurant and having the chef tell you exactly how the food should be eaten. The food might be great, but its not going to be my favorite place to eat. If I can’t listen to an “album of the year” while I’m driving, taking a shit, working out, or just staring blankly at the wall, then it ain’t the album of the year. However, raptor, I do truly appreciate your appreciation of the finer qualities of the album, and I have to concur that a great deal of detail and meticulous thought went into production (though the needle on vinyl technique stopped impressing me in 1994). The production of the songs is very good. The album as a piece is pretty good.

        As far as the empty “art house” rhetoric goes, I almost don’t care to respond. Ron Pearlman is not the issue, here. The writing and direction of the film are the issue. The character is intentionally rendered poorly because this is an arthouse film? That the director needs to resort to intentional caricatures demonstrates the quality of the film. A “B” movie is such because its fits the needs of a certain aspect of the industry. Arguing that a producer made an expensive film, but threw in shitty elements as an homage is silly. An audience can appreciate a great B movie because we suspend our expectations that it will have the same elements as a major picture. Many (including myself) find more value in the foci of these kinds of movies because they don’t rely on expensive, but shallow, tricks to earn audience loyalty. “Transformers/Avatar/Inception was a terrible movie.” “Yeah, but it looked great!” If a producer wants to make a movie with a “B” formula, then there is no reason not to. In fact, “B” and art house are not mutually exclusive. I just happen to think that Drive was that well conceived or delivered. It also wasn’t very “high brow”

        It was an okay movie with a terrible font for the credits and a poor choice for the soundtrack.
        Oh, and speaking of, the soundtrack was supposed to be a terrible match for the narrative and emotion of the film? Bullshit. Why have any accepted conventions for entertainment at all? The soundtrack was a concept that makes sense in its associations to the content of the film. It did not work in operation. If the point is that only a select few get to be “in” on the associations of sountrack and film, then I am fine standing on the outside and feeling that the experiment wasn’t quite successful.

        • OK, I like your points you made about “Album of the Year” distinctions. So, let’s set Chromatics aside for a second and further discuss what qualifies an “Album of the Year”

          Let me start with some examples of past Albums of the Year. Remember when “Merriweather Post Pavillion” came out at the beginning of January 2009? LOTS AND LOTS of people instantly started tossing around “Album of the Year” — for a big part because most sites had just posted their 2008 Albums of the Year (Strawberry Jam placing very high in most of those lists).

          But how could we have known that Merriweather was the album of the year when the year had just begun? Mainly because of “My Girls” but more importantly because music fans had seen the Animal Collective musical arc. We had watched this band progressively put out more music that kept hitting our “Animal Collective Bone” (I don’t know how to describe the feeling I get when I listen to AnCo, so there’s that) harder and harder. So that when Merriweather dropped, we were pretty positive that NOBODY would top Animal Collective’s magnum opus. (Even though I give that title to Here Comes The Indian).

          Few other quick examples. Girls last album was Stereogum’s AOTY. Girls had put out two previous records that were both very good. So when we heard the new album and it was EVEN BETTER, I’m sure that’s when the Stereogum crew started discussing its AOTY potential.

          Or Bon Iver. I wasn’t a huge fan, it felt very niche (a critique you point out above). Apparently, I was wrong, as a ton of people clearly enjoyed taking shits to Bon Iver (remember, from before ;)

          And that takes us back to Chromatics. It’s always risky territory calling an album of the year so early in the year. But I think given Chromatics past work, Jonny Jewel’s past work, this album seems to be a culmination of something in music that is so good, that I can’t think about Kill For Love in any other context other than absolute greatness.

          I purposely avoid talking about Drive in my responses, as I am unable to give an objectional viewpoint on that movie. However, you seem to take issue with Drive being mentioned in a Chromatics album review. That’s understandable, but unfortunately you really DO have to mention Drive alongside Chromatics. Without going into a lot of detail, because again I can’t have an objectional viewpoint on Drive, Kill For Love and Drive have to be mentioned together.

          You’ll see Drive mentioned quite a bit next week when Pitchfork BNMs Kill For Love. I promise.

          • raptor, agreed on all points. My feeling is that all the AOTY albums you mentioned fell pretty short of album of the year status in terms of being broad enough for consideration. I happened to like those albums (except for MPP). I also happen to think that all of those titles (including MPP) were “less good” than their predecessors.

            As a personal example, my album of the year from 2011 was My Apocalypse. But that’s just a personal favorite. I could not sincerely argue that My Apocalypse was the best album from 2011. The last album that I heard, and would feel comfortable saying “this album was far and away the album of the year” was The Suburbs. I think people will discredit the work now because of the Grammies, but that was a truly substantial album, and rightfully deserved the credit it received. Most years, there are some albums on a lot of people’s short lists, but no real consensus on a “best” album. I am not opposed to personal preferences, but I don’t like hyperbole masquerading as objective commentary (not accusing you of having done that).

            You are absolutely right that Drive and Chromatics have to share the space for several reasons, but I am not sure that the movie should receive almost equal billing in a review of the new album. Very few reviews of Drive spent much time with the soundtrack (for good reason). I think the movie deserves a nod here, but that’s about it. Speaking of Pitchfork, I enjoy the site a lot, but I am not hanging my hat on any review or commentary over there. There is a total lack of perspective due to politics, which seeps into all conversations “indie”, but to much too large an extent there.

            raptor, I really do appreciate your p.o.v. and the thoughtful approach. As a little confession, I actually don’t listen to anything while taking a shit. I like a quiet, meditative environment.

        • The character wasn’t rendered poorly. A caricature itself doesn’t qualify a character as poor simply because it’s a caricature. The movie was dealing in themes of perception, one being perceived masculinity. It took an overtly masculine genre, the car chase film, which is builds an emotional response from loud noise through explosions, wreckage, gunshots, and other violence, and intentionally tries to disconnect its audience from that by rendering it almost mute. The brief violence that did happen became more shocking because of that, in my opinion.

          Pearlman’s portrayal of a neurotic tough guy gangster was also an intended subversion of the traditional mob boss. He’s so consumed with self-image, as opposed to say expansion or making more money, that he can’t allow himself to enjoy any level of success, because the Italians are always there “pinching him on the cheek, like a baby.”

          I also don’t think they were throwing in “shitty elements” when homaging B movies, because I don’t think they viewed them as shitty. Pulp material is generally credited as B material regardless of quality because of its lurid nature. There was a time when film noir wasn’t considered high brow like it is today for that reason. I’m not being condescending when I said it was marrying high brow art house with low brow B movie. As I alluded to earlier, Drive deals heavily in ideas of perception: how one perceives him/herself, how others perceive you, etc. So the idea of taking two classes of film that seem diametrically opposed based solely on audience perception was an attempt at screwing with the entire concept of “classing” films.

          Then again, this is all my opinion. And I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to be swayed by some dude on a music blog. So I’ll just let it be from here on out.

          • Not to fuckin’ beat a fuckin’ dead fuckin horse:

            Nino: What you doin’ eatin’ Chink food in my fuckin’ restaurant?
            Bernie Rose: What’s a Jew doing running a pizzeria?

            Nino: Take a fuckin’ hike. I wanna talk to my partner.
            [Shannon gives him a cold look]
            Nino: I’m just fuckin’ with ya. How you doin’ Shannon? How’s the fuckin’ leg?
            Shannon: I paid my debt.
            [referring to Shannon's offer]
            Bernie Rose: I’ll think about it. Okay? But I wanna meet the kid first.
            Shannon: It’s all I ask.

            Nino: We paid three hundred fuckin’ grand for this piece of shit?
            Bernie Rose: I paid for it, out of my own pocket. This is just a shell. It’s the inside that counts, not the outside. Right, Shannon?
            Shannon: You are correct, sir.
            Nino: Fuck that shit! I paid three hundred for somethin’, I want everybody to fuckin’ see it.
            Bernie Rose: Of course you do.

            Nino: Now this, that is one motherfuckin’ fine assed pussy mobile, motherfucker!
            Bernie Rose: Shannon, sell him the car.
            Shannon: You know, he wouldn’t be able to find pussy in a whore house.
            [to Nino]
            Shannon: You know what? This car will even make you good lookin’.
            Nino: Well, I’m already good lookin’, pal.

          • It’s been great discussing these topics with you eldave. I’m glad Stereogum got this post up as quick as they did because I’ve enjoyed getting to talk about an album that we all JUST got the chance to hear.

            I also didn’t think MPP was album of the year (and I said above my preference of HCTI). “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” was my album of the year for 2009. But then again that touches on what we’re both saying: Is there ever really an Album of The Year?

            It seems like we came close with Kanye, although many people vehemently opposed that claim – further justifying the point we are both making.

            I guess my purpose of calling Chromatics AOTY is hyperbole, but it’s good-intentioned hyperbole. I want someone that is casually cruising this article and comments to read my comment and go “Oh shit, really?” Because even if somebody checks it out and then goes, “That raptor jesus guy is fucking retarded” I still feel that someone will check it out and fall in love. I feel strongly enough about this album to recklessly send people to go and listen to it, even though I can’t be certain everyone will particularly like it.

            And as for Drive (you finally got to me :) ) I just can’t really take your critique seriously about a supporting cast member that was fucking HELLBOY. Low Budget is Low, y’know?

            So I think that between Tom’s words and all our words in the comments, Stereogum has done its part in getting the word out on this fantastic new album. We should all be proud of ourselves. Round of drinks on me!

            Somebody go throw “Lady” on the jukebox PA-LEASE!

  6. This Chromatics album is really great.

  7. I like it a lot!

  8. Not a fan of Drive at all but I can definitely get behind this album.

  9. crabtron  |   Posted on Apr 3rd, 2012 +1

    I was about halfway through listening to this album on Soundcloud, when I decided that I could no longer ignore my growing need to go pee. I didn’t want to interrupt the continuity of the album, but I also didn’t want to hold it for another 45 minutes. Nor did I want to simply pee my pants (I’m planning on wearing these pants again tomorrow. Money spent on laundry is money wasted, I say). What to do?

    Well, I did the only reasonable thing and took my laptop into the bathroom with me, holding it in one hand as I relieved myself. I’m pretty sure it was worth it, though I may have temporarily ruined “The Eleventh Hour” for myself with the absurdity of the act.

    I guess my point is: Great album.

  10. You KNOW the record is good if it can get comments this lengthy and deep.

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