LIVE REPORT: Chromatics
, June 6th, 2012 04:30
Kill For Love comes alive at White Heat
Chromatics' new album Kill For Love, their second for the Italians Do It Better label, at first listen surrenders its pleasures readily, all nocturnal, cigarettes-and-tears gothisms stretched over 92 minutes, like a worry that you can't shake. When I first heard the record, it initially earned far more time in the ears than Liars' at-first perplexing WIXIW. Since then, that record has mutated into a dark Janus, while Kill For Love's sweet pop echo is a lighter soundtrack to 2012, a reminder that much beauty can be found in the artfully, and prettily, maudlin.
Yet it's all so cleverly thought out, too much so perhaps, that it could easily fall down live, arch minimalism falling into bits via shoddy execution. Thankfully, that's never in danger of happening tonight (June 5th) at London's White Heat. The band around Johnny Jewel is the latest of many (I first encountered Chromatics via the scabrous 2003 LP Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz that featured Hannah Blilie, now of the Gossip) but tonight, this four piece execute with aplomb the mixing of guitar, drums, synths and vox that can confound so many.
The obvious reference point is a more together New Order. Indeed, many of the tracks aired tonight, from the chiming guitar lines that have a friend of tQ announcing "it's a bit bloody Manchester" and the general air of joy-amidst-drizzle that matches the damp Jubilee-fatigued streets outside, resemble that group if they'd started jamming during the comedown of those infamous early E excursions. But despite the clear touchstones, to write off Chromatics as cheeky re-treaders would be a superficial assessment. There's too much substance (NPI) here for that.
The tracks played tonight from Kill For Love are brilliantly arranged, becoming more robust and solid in the live setting. An element of live drums helps, though the kick is curiously small and lying on its side. Johnny Jewel himself stabs and jives behind his keyboard, while singer Ruth Radelet, tall and elphin with strange marks drawn on her face, hits the right notes with a little less of the LP's languid air, and also plays guitars and keys. So on 'Lady''s quiet funk the peaks and troughs are more pronounced, and on 'Those Streets Will Never Look The Same' the album's intimate vocoder sorrow becomes a public cry. The result, with the Italo pulse frequently lifting the sleepy air, is like waking amidst a dream that, with a tingle on the neck in the half-light, reveals itself as truth and, rolling over, you encounter a real, soft human form that you can't quite remember meeting, just a few hours ago.
They end the first part of the set with a cover of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill', and start the encore with the aggressively mournful take on Neil Young's 'Hey Hey My My', a throaty guitar line dancing with a firefly needle of synth. The sign of a good group is often their ability to appropriate the songs of others and respectfully vanquish them into something of their very own. With both cover tracks tonight, Chromatics achieve that.
Chromatics are something of a curio in 2012, for their somewhat gothic and romantic pop is eminently sophisticated in a time when most American musicians who might be considered their contemporaries (eg. the kind that keep the bloggers in their coffee shop jobs) have hidden behind asexual anti-personality and pointless, lazy fuzz. This means, of course, that their performance, and their album, is exceedingly classy, though not self-consciously or alienatingly so, as the hands in the air and 'whoops' that greet their final track attest. Like Gayngs and Destroyer, fellow North American masters of smooth post-modern pop sophistication, Chromatics have a sense of unravelling the past to create something of their own that oozes soul and intelligence. To be very lazy, and titillate the hype-hounds, one can say that you could very easily discover this exploding in a similar way to how The xx so surprisingly did a couple of years ago, especially when you consider the thoughtful come-and-go of 'Birds Of Paradise'. Whether that transpires or not, no matter: anyone encountering Chromatics live at this point in 2012 will enjoy one of those rare moments where the most intimate pop music transforms into something bigger, bolder, brighter, like suddenly encountering your own life on flickering celluloid film.