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White Noise: Chromatics – Night Drive

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Chromatics – Night Drive

To make a departure from a lo-fi punk sound and decide that in fact, stripped down italo-disco is the way to go is an ambitious move, so it was anyone's guess how Chromatics, an Oregon-based band, would fare with their latest release. And to their credit, this band has taken a new direction and really flung themselves into it, releasing a great throwback record whilst intelligently ignoring the wry smile that so often accompanies the retro-pastiche album.

Ruth Radelet's half-drugged vocals haunt the album, opening the LP with a telephone call that introduces the driving-at-night atmosphere that these tracks pursue. The thick double-layering of her voice at all time evokes seedy streets and reflected neon signs, but what really makes this album work is the attention to detail shown throughout in the instrumentation. Too often standard-formation bands rely too heavily on vocals and use instrumentals as a backing track, but here Chromatics have clearly taken their disco charge seriously.

The album trades in crisp cheap-sounding beats (in a good way) and smoky hook-laden riffs, creating dark, syrup-thick layers that court Radelet's vocals flawlessly throughout. One of the generously-strewn highlights is third cut I Want Your Love, which is surprisingly long for a poppy track but never meanders. Opening with a taut plucked riff, a bass throb introduces Radelet's obliquely steamed-up vocals, the atmosphere is palpable. Her insanely catchy vocal refrain 'I want your love' showcases perfectly the curious combination of longing and disinterest in her singing, sort of a disco-Nico for the noughties.

A real triumph of this album is the approach to a sound that references the past so heavily, as noted earlier. Instead of a half-ironic collage of disco styles, the band has clearly thought about how to adapt italo-disco for the new generation, and in stripping down any excess from the sound they have crafted an addictive, tense and minimal approach that works perfectly. This is shown in another album highlight, Kate Bush cover Running Up That Hill which is effectively three repeated chords and some light percussion, with Radelet's voice soaring above to synthed-out strings. It's simple, but it's beautifully crafted and the sparse feel leaves these elements open to be taken seriously and as they are; this is music unmasked and in stripping away all that noise you're left with great riffs and candy-sweet vocal hooks that make this a difficult album to stop listening to.

Admittedly the album sometimes takes a wrong step. While The Killing Spree is a successful creepy murder-vision instrumental and Let's Make This A Moment To Remember is a skilful slow-groove wordless disco tune, final 17 minute instrumental Tick of the Clock is a techno misstep that almost works but ultimately recedes into the background before interest can really take hold. Similarly Tomorrow Is So Far Away has a great, threatening atmosphere that doesn't quite keep the song interesting for its entire 7 minute playlength.

However these negatives pale in comparison to the sheer volume of great tracks on the album. I've already mentioned the first three but Healer is a great cut with a storming post-punk guitar riff and a deliciously heavy feel, whilst Mask has one of the catchiest choruses on the LP and a joyous untreated synth noise that raises its head every so often to great effect.

Because of its appropriation of old textures and genre, this album doesn't sound totally unique. It's not perfect either, occasionally tracks overstay their welcome. But this album is a surprisingly bold and consistent move in a new direction for this band, and its real triumph is something that artists too often forget in trying to craft something new or conceptually complex: this is an album full of atmospheric and endlessly satisfying songs that you'll find it hard to turn it off. In some ways, there's no higher praise.


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At 29 June 2011 at 14:33 , Blogger myprsnlaccnt said...

Couldn't agree more. Excellent review. I have always been a big Italians do it better fan ever since glass candy's beatbox came out. But love this album. "Running up that hill" is truly a gem.


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