Italians Do It Better
How far would you go for love? Would you give up all your possessions? Renounce this world and all its cruelty? Would you die for love? Would you kill for love?
Kill For Love is the new album by Chromatics, a band from Portland, Orgeon led by the producer Johnny Jewel of Italians Do It Better renown. I’ve written about the Italians Do It Better label before, drawing a comparison between the IDIB roster’s sound, and the lo-fi, tripped-out, “haunted retro” aesthetic of acts like Ariel Pink and John Maus.
The Italians Do It Better sound is rooted very firmly in late 70s and early 80s disco music, particularly the more soundtrack-oriented work of Giorgio Moroder, Claudio Simonetti and Patrick Cowley. As those names would also suggest, Johnny Jewel (who produces practically everything on the label) LOVES the sound of analog synthesizers. Jewel was the original choice to compose the soundtrack to last year’s 80s-noir sleeper hit Drive, and with his trademark throbbing, moody sound, it’s not hard to see why.
Chromatics are one of Italians Do It Better’s flagship acts, and one of its most popular, so expectations for this new album are high (particularly as it was originally due for release in 2010.) Thank god then that it doesn’t disappoint. It goes without saying that there’s nothing radically new here, no re-invention of the wheel, but when a form and function are just so perfect, why would you want to reinvent them?
Having said that, there is less of a reliance on arpeggiated synth lines on Kill For Love as there has been on past Chromatics releases. Of all the IDIB acts, Chromatics seem most like a “real” band, in that they aren’t afraid to adopt the “traditional” band roles of bassist, guitarist and drummer. In fact, the addition of live electric guitar on a lot of Kill For Love is perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the album.
Still, that chilly John Carpenter-vibe is present and correct, like a sliver of ice through a beating heart, as are the hauntingly distant female vocals of singer Ruth Radelet. The opening cover of Neil Young’s “Into The Black” is simply stunning, one of the musical highlights of the year so far for me, and as an opener it sets up the rest of the album perfectly. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Jewel explained the rationale behind that particular cover version:
It was very, very intentional in terms of rock mythology. You can’t underestimate the power of the guitar for an American audience. It’s a really strong symbol—just everything the guitar and Western culture represent—and Chromatics is part of that fantasy. The Neil Young song was recorded in 2009, and I knew I wanted to open the album with it, for multiple reasons. Part of it was a challenge to us as beatmakers or mood-makers, to see if we could actually write songs that could stand up in a pop sense. Because if you cover a song like that, you’re biting off a lot. You can’t touch Neil Young, but I wanted to challenge us to go beyond the loop and think about songs more.
The rest of that interview is well worth a read.
You can hear (and download) the Chromatics cover of “Into The Black” right here:
Here’s another free download from the album, the single “Kill For Love”:
And here’s the “Kill For Love” album in full:
For LOTS more great music, visit Johnny Jewel’s Soundcloud page.
To order Kill For Love, and for more info on Italians Do It Better, visit Viva Italians.