Though they’ve existed in some form or another for several years now, Portland’s Chromatics are somewhat stingy when it comes to releasing music. This is their fifth LP, and first in five years. In 2007, they released Night Drive on New Jersey label Italians Do It Better and then drifted back into the ether. That album has proven to be a watershed for the band. After hearing Night Drive, Nicolas Winding-Refn envisioned his film Drive being accompanied by lush synthesizer jams akin to what Chromatics had created. Band member Johnny Jewel was enlisted to help out on a few of the tracks that made it on the soundtrack, but he decided to go even further than that. Last year he coupled with band mate Nat Walker and composed Themes for an Imaginary Film under the name Symmetry. This sprawling two-hour release, which may or may not function as an unofficial soundtrack for Drive, was just the tip of the iceberg. On Kill for Love, Chromatics go for broke and don’t disappoint for a second.
It’s no surprise that they’ve gotten soundtrack work, Chromatics’ music is very cinematic and during many of the songs here it’s easy to see how this stuff would work well on the silver screen. Tracks like "Lady" and "There’s a Light Out on the Horizon" just beg for wide angled shots of some noir smeared futuristic metropolis.
The album begins oddly enough with a cover of Neil Young’s "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)". That seems to make very little sense on paper, but on record, the murky instrumentation paired with the ghostliness of Ruth Radelet’s vocals is a no brainer. Its leaps of faith like this that makes Kill for Love so special, the greater the risk the greater the reward.
Sonic diversity is another strongpoint for the band. It’s easy enough to call this electro-pop or synth-pop, but that doesn’t really do it justice. The title track is a melancholic piece of shoegaze that showcases Radelet’s voice wonderfully while "Back From the Grave" and "At Your Door" are bubbly dance floor fillers. Elsewhere, longer interludes like "These Streets Will Never Look the Same" and "Birds of Paradise" provide the chilling, sometimes unsettling, backbone of the record.
Clocking in at 17 tracks and well over an hour in length Kill for Love is a behemoth. It’s not daunting though. As dark and downcast as their music can sometimes be Chromatics’ end product is bathed in spectral beauty. It may break your heart more than it makes you want to pump your fist, but there is no denying the ability of this group to write a catchy tune. So far in 2012, no one has released something as ambitious as this and judging by the pristine quality of Kill for Love, it doesn’t seem like anyone else will be able to either.