I have held off on writing about albums I love this year. And partly that’s circumstantial and partly it’s because writing about things you love and feeling a need to justify your opinion is much easier with something that is flawed than something you love. But I’ve broken down. In a spoiler alert to my best of the year lists that will come in January (or December if I bust my ass and have time), many of the albums that I’ll be writing about never had reviews on this site. Some have, and if you go back and read the few dozen reviews I’ve done this year, you’ll see some clarification, but it’s now time to delve into an album I’ve been sitting on and enjoying for far too long to not talk about. Consider the following paragraphs a PSA.
Chromatics were a band I was unaware of until the beginning of summer. Through pure chance and boredom did I download their latest double LP Kill For Love and I can happily say it’s one of the great albums I’ve heard in 2012. Not without its nuanced personal flaws, Kill For Love is a perfect embodiment of 21st century electronic music combining with classic elements of dream and synth pop.
In a rather bold move, the album begins with a cover of Neil Young’s “My My Hey Hey (Into the Black)”. It’s a risky move to put a cover of any kind on a studio record, but to lead off with it is as crazy as it comes and Chromatics absolutely nail it. By leading off with a song as classic and timeless as Young’s “Into the Black”, not only is the band able to subtly peak your interest and draw you into listening a bit closer than you were before, but they’re able to establish a sound and an identity they would continue to explore for the remaining 72 minutes.
Musically the band balances space and layers in equilibrium. While it’s unfair to categorize Kill For Love as oppressive or even heavy, the album certainly has its moments of genuine overflow, but never to a fault. “These Streets Will Never Look the Same” ends its 8-minute lament with fuzzy synths pounding ever forward in apathetic delight, and “Lady”, one of the albums few dance-y (I use the term lightly) tracks mixes snappy percussion with these layered synthy screeches. But through and through the album proves it’s minimalism through bouts of silence. Kill For Love is an enigmatic work if only because tracks will break into silence (“The Eleventh Hour”) or light percussion orchestrated minute-lasting interludes (“Broken Mirrors”) periodically. Similar to one of my favorite albums Disintegration by the Cure, Chromatic’s are acutely aware of not only when to fill sound, but when to hold back as well, even to a point of nothingness.
The album of course has a few standouts, including the lead single “Kill For Love”, which is one of the more musically driving tracks on the album and is a perfect showcase for Ruth Radelet’s beautiful voice. “Birds of Paradise” is another of these great showcases but has the neo-noir piano bar/lounge singer qualities to accentuate the atmosphere of the album and her vocals specifically.
And I would be remiss to not mention how the album works as a double LP. Not that it’s a popular medium in 2012 (we music lovers want things under an hour and filled with lots of singles), M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming did it last year with wonderful success and Kill For Love this year attempts it this year. It is an ambitious and time consuming piece of work. It’s hard to imagine it in any other form but for as many ways the album works in two, it’s also one of its few flaws. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming had the drama and intrigue as well as the musical drive to hold attention for over an hour. It made sense. And while I cannot argue against the lengthy format, I can’t say I see some kind of musical arc expressed across the hour and 15 minutes that warrants the length, other than that it completely captures a beautiful ebb and flow. It’s a minor flaw, one that could have easily backfired and one that very obviously will turn some people off, but personally I see no intrinsic issues structurally with the decisions. Just know that Kill For Love has few “radio” ready singles minus the two lead off tracks and with any long album, you have to mentally prepare to listen front to back to get the full experience.
Kill For Love will appear on lists in December and January, if not by other music journalists than at least by this blogger. Length aside, it has too many interesting musical motifs to ignore, especially as a modern electronic synth pop record. Even at an hour, it cannot be overstated how mesmerizing the musical experience is. Grade: A