It’s hard for me to write about the Chromatics, harder than I realised on starting. They’re the femme fatale I met in a high-end Hong Kong hotel bar on some impossible business trip, who’ve disrupted every love ever since with their damaged perfection and unattainability. They cast a pall; I’m always destructively returning to them when I should be building something, looking forward, moving on. And now they’re back in my life, just when I thought maybe I’d quit them.
Their return five years after the formerly crusty noise-punks reinvented themselves as synth-noir is well-timed: the refreshed Moroder vibes that their label Italians Do It Better en vogue’d in the late 00s were resuscitated on hipster-bait film Drive’s soundtrack last year, with labelmates Desire now soundtracking runways. Chromatics and Italians Do It Better mastermind Johnny Jewel allegedly composed a scrapped score for the film, released separately as Themes for an Imaginary Film.
That Hong Kong hotel bar is sort of their milieu: a Wong Kar Wai anti-heroine; neon in puddles; pills and liquor and sharp night air; secrets, love, death. Our eyes-meet-across-the-room moment was a spectral cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill; their noirish mix of distant, languid female vocal, gorgeous thick sugar synths and brittly-euphoric post-punk guitars has been the apogee of pop music for me ever since.
The IDIB/Chromatics blueprint for analogue textures has been widely taken up, almost to the point of being overcooked. None have come close to bettering the realization of an aesthetic on Night Drive—until now, here. The title Themes for an Imaginary Film highlights what we all fall for, our weakness for cinematic, escapist music. Kill for Love inhabits a fully realised, convincing world, which is what makes it a dangerous joy to write about: smoke, mirrors, haunting, dread; words beg to be deployed in the hope of conveying how quickly we become immersed in their music, how happily we submerge ourselves, how willingly we give ourselves up, how completely we are conquered.
Kill for Love isn’t an aesthetic exercise, like so many of the recent wave of analogue lovers who look for a quick fix, a simple signifier of taste. The aesthetic is in thrall to narrative; its remarkable atmospheres are yet more instruments to be deployed towards a specific goal, just like Ruth Radalet’s street-corner siren voice, the hard romance they sing of, or the heaven-spun analogue melodies washing over us.
It would be possible to highlight that Kill for Love contains three perfect pop songs, better than anything they or almost anyone else has done before. You might also quibble over its 90 minute run length, or the elongated interstitial tracks and instrumental fades and codas – though for me they represent an improvement on those on Night Drive and an essential part of the experience.
To isolate elements of the record in so short a space as this review, however, is to misrepresent it: as with a great film, its variety, the peaks and troughs of engagement punctuated by unexpected beauty, are to be experienced, replayed and unpacked at leisure – no spoilers.
You might not be susceptible to their charms, which is understandable; but for those who are, this is a work to dissolve into and live in. So, five years on, I remain completely, destructively devoted to Chromatics: a love I’d kill for.
-Michael C Lewin