After an interminable wait (seven years and ongoing) Chromatics Dear Tommy is… still not currently with us. However, quite out of the blue, the Portland based post-disco outfit have dropped a new album. Closer To Grey has been trailed by its title track over five years ago, but this surprise release suggests a new direction for the band.
It isn’t exactly Chromatics Go Pop – but it does see the band lighten their characteristically moody sound. It isn’t a jarring change of tone, nor a bid for mainstream ubiquity, but a refreshing change of scene.
Things may start where you’d expect: a witchy cover of ‘Sound of Silence’ casts a frosty pall. Along with covers of Kate Bush, Springsteen & Neil Young, the band have a particular knack for bringing pop hits of yesteryear into their orbit. Yet that thaw begins to melt by the second track: ‘You’re No Good’ is positively chipper. You can still here those iconic sighing itali-strings and crackling static, but they are offset by an uptempo beat and another brilliant vocal turn from singer Ruth Radelet. The hooks she provides on the album are pure pop sugar rush.
Radelet still plays the role – the role which defines the band’s sound – of the sad-eyed ingénue, to perfection. Her resigned glassy voice gives shape to her bandmates’ more abstract synthscapes. You can picture her staring, deer in the headlights style, into some oncoming blackness.
Yet moreso than ever, there’s a flicker of hope at the heart of Chromatics. Closer To Grey may still rely on abstract waking-dream lyrics, but these feel closer to home and more personal; more heartfelt. Artifice is a huge part of their appeal: the mystery, the hidden tear behind the mask. But more than ever they feel like human beings.
More than ever, they feel like a band. Label-head and founding member Jonny Jewel has toned-down the stiffly machine-like playing that defined their debut Night Drive. On Closer To Grey you can actually picture a band in a room playing this, rather than a series of audio tracks layered at the SSL terminal.
‘Twist The Knife’ & ‘Touch Red’ hark closer to the established sound of the Italians Do It Better roster (the label curated by Jonny Jewel). Yet even these have shiny, bittersweet hooks.
It isn’t radical reinvention, and nor should it be. Closer To Grey is a welcome side-step for a band who thrive on their own iconoclastic pallete of sounds.
Chromatics are touring the UK later this month. Tickets here.