The ever-changing Chromatics released their debut album, Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz, in 2003 with original lineup Adam Miller, Devin Welch, Michelle Nolan, and Hannah Billie. Several more lineup changes resulted in the band’s current synthpop dark disco sound, transitioning from a former post-punk lo-fi direction. The new foursome consisting of Ruth Radelet, Johnny Jewel, Nat Walker, and original member Adam Miller, released Kill For Love in March 2012. Chromatics gained recognition after their song “Tick of The Clock” was featured in the movie soundtrack of the 2011 film Drive. The band is often associated and compared with fellow Italians Do It Better label mates, Glass Candy, which Johnny Jewel is also a part of, and Desire, a side project of Johnny Jewel and Nat Walker.
Listening to the sleek, darkly sexy disco inspired sounds of Portland, Oregon's Chromatics, you'd never guess that band was originally a noisy punk band. Then again, it's a similar trajectory to one of Chromatics key influences, New Order. A band who's transition from the industrial post-punk of Joy Division to synth-pop mastery was effortless, to understate their greatness. Now three albums in, Chromatics are only improving. Released this past March, their LP Kill For Love is glossy, nocturnal, utterly elegant, and in keeping with the Italo-disco sounds championed by Chromatics' label, Italians Do It Better.
It's a dance record more in style than practicality; these songs would sound great in a club but wouldn't satisfy the dance cravings of pumped up ravers. Bass drums thump like downtrodden heart beats, synthesized strings float in and out of the mix lazily along with half-submerged, beautifully crestfallen guitar. This is a night album through and through, and it's dark minimalism might have turned out bleak if it wasn't so pretty.
Title track “Kill For Love” leans more towards 80s synth-pop than disco with its great washes of guitar that recall the cool majesty of early New Order and lush synths. Ruth Radelet's sounds gorgeously regretful as she sings “Everybody's got a secret to hide/Everybody's slipping backwards.”
Tracks like “Lady” incorporate Chromatics Italo-disco influence, though it's slower and darker than the bouncy tunes that filled dance floors in the late 70s and early 80s (and inspired so much electronic music in years to come). Not even unleashing the bass/snare pound of the beat until two minutes in, Chromatics have you eating out of their hands with wintry yet rich synths and Radelet's forlorn call of “If I could only call you my lady/Baby I could be your man.”
Chromatics aren't reinventing the wheel, they use many of the same dreamy, 80s inspired elements as other groups in recent years, but the elegant, melancholy beauty of it and effortless execution is a beautiful thing to behold.