These Streets Will Never Look The Same. Birds of Paradise. A Matter of Time. No Escape. A few song titles off Chromatics excruciatingly-awaited LP, Kill For Love. All borderline cliche monikers for a suspense thriller coming this summer to a cineplex near you. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Another tired aphorism actually worth applying in this instance. Don’t let appearances fool you. You get the picture. ‘Nuff said.
“I’m not really a musician,” confesses its synthsmith Johnny Jewel to Magnet. “I’m more like messing with imagery. So it lends itself to film.” He gained plenty of new fans with his later aborted attempt to score last year’s stylish L.A. speed caper Drive. “Tick of the Clock”, which ironically appears on their last full length Night Drive, fortunately made it into the final cut. But before he pulls a Reznor and parlays his nascent cinematic notoriety into steady work (will likely score the Logan’s Run remake and Gosling’s directorial debut), there’s record deals to honor. And when you essentially own your own imprint, you can afford to make us wait — fawning fangs at the ready.
The warm crackle of a record needle and ‘70s ballad guitar are a rather auspicious way to set things in motion. Then you hear a familiar, almost Jimmy Fallon-like spectre rise up from the smoldering embers of rock past. Then you exclaim to yourself, “That’s Ruth Radelet covering a Neil Young song!” This version of “Into the Black” is as fitting as it is infectious. When Young penned the tune 35 years ago, it served as a eulogy for the rock gods past, for those who’d rather “burn out than fade away” while punk questioned their legitimacy. It all comes full circle eventually — a New/No Wave revival carrying the outcast’s torch. Grunge did it too. This time it sounds so much cleaner.
The soaring title track has been percolating through the interwebs for a few months now; or should I say killing those tangled webs we weave, oh-so-softly. When Radelet’s Debbie-Harry-out-at-the-disco seductress mode is in full swing, there’s nowhere your throbbing ear drums can hide. “Everybody’s got a secret to hide/Everyone is slipping backwards” arrests the heart just enough so the modulated confession “I’d kill for love” suspends you with surreal buoyancy behind its motorik beat. The tonic key gradually sinks into a deeper depression, resuscitated at the coda by Adam Miller’s electronic thrashing which is suddenly overtaken by a resounding ominous hum. Sounds like a bad night of X to me.
The holes and spaces for wavelengths to resonate in become a bit more spacious once we start wading in this pool of shiny decadence. If you actually bought A Flock of Seagulls Greatest Hits (I purchased it for a friend’s bday at Wal-Mart as a joke) and recognize that it’s almost entirely a waste of plastic with the exception of “I Ran (So Far Away)” then you’ll likely be slow-motion snapping to dancer “The Page.” Two earworm inducing alternating synthesized chords prime the engine on “Lady”. Foot tapping and head bopping synchronize alongside a bass pulse that makes lines like “If I could only call you my lady/Baby I could be your man” sound like the best pickup line a whiskey sour can buy. Credit that to actually singing with the melody instead of ignoring it altogether.
Those aforementioned sonic voids become boundless once we tip-toe through “Broken Mirrors.” Synths are sped up and rewound in milliseconds, barely perceptible yet teeming enough to levitate in what might as well be the edge of the universe. Galloping, well chromatic, undertones begin creeping into the fray, oscillating and clicking while a 7/4 metronome and a clinking hammer materialize into an entirely new tangent; morphing and amplifying until the whole apparatus reaches cruising altitude. If this instrumental doesn’t find its way into the stalking scene of a cerebral horror movie, music supervisors be damned.
Rest assured “There’s A Light Out on the Horizon.” This soundscape melds together all the aural motifs Jewel introduces throughout the album. The thunderous backbeat. A menacing tazer. Stalagmites of synth only he could crystallize. Midway through, much like Pink Floyd’s incorporation of dial tones on Dark Side of the Moon, a lifeless voicemail prompt is dialed in. “It’s me. Just wondering if you got my text. Anyway, I’m going to bed pretty soon. Hope you’re okay out there, wherever you are. Good night. Love you.” The echoing thunder and distant beat march on, unwavered by her desperate pleas to come home.
Every song presented before us is a film unto itself. It’s all there. Some more obvious than others. Even the sublime ones beg for visual conjecture. But there’s no aimless guesswork here. Heart strings and brain cells swaying in concert with a masterful conductor.
Listen to ‘Kill For Love’ in its entirety here.