[Italians Do It Better; 2012]

Chromatics – “Candy”

With each passing year, almost like clockwork, an album arrives on the scene that reaffirms how important atmosphere can be in elevating a collection of songs from merely good to unforgettable. Records such as The xx’s self-titled debut, Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, and The Weeknd’s House of Balloons are works of a certain world and a certain mood – the sort of soundtracks perfectly suited for a 2am comedown or an all-night drive on vacant highways. They get under your skin and stay there, and no matter how strong the individual track-work, what ultimately becomes their defining characteristic is their overall tone – their inescapable sonic identity that places them at a level of artistry few records ever manage to successfully operate within.

Much like those works, Kill for Love’s primary selling point is in its masterful grasp of atmosphere. Kill for Love is dark, dense, and often detached, opening with a cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” that somehow manages to take that song’s lamentations and increase the tragedy of their tone exponentially. What follows is a record as indebted to the sounds of post-punk as it is new wave – layering the darkness of the instrumental work with a gloss of pop accessibility. Because of this, Kill for Love often works on two levels – initially pulling the listener in through its undeniably New Order-esque electronic sheen only to reveal its underlying sense of sorrow and loss the deeper we delve into its world. This makes the record a fitting soundtrack for both days spent in good company and nights spent alone – shifting back and forth between two very different tones depending on where one decides to aim their focus. Given this density, it’s no surprise it took five years of work (and a reported narrowing down of 36 completed tracks) for Kill for Love to finally arrive. This isn’t the sort of music that can be easily constructed, nor immediately classified. And its mammoth run time (clocking in at just over 90 minutes) means the very act of getting through it all is a fairly sizable commitment. Kill for Love asks for a great deal of your attention, and it is right to do so – everything here, from the instrumental and vocal work to the sequencing and lyrics, serves to place the listener into its world so deeply that all other outside elements fade into the background.

But despite the richness that comes from its density and its sprawl, it’s these qualities that end up being Kill for Love‘s Achilles heel – there’s far too much of it. By the time we’ve reached the 14-minute outro, “No Escape,” Kill for Love has explored its uniquely constructed ideas and sounds to the point of familiarity. The excitement one has upon hearing the opening notes of “Into the Black” is virtually absent in the record’s final moments – it’s simply not the sort of stuff that can hold up for such a lengthy run time. Adding to the problem is a plethora of instrumental tracks that fail to fully capture the power that Kill for Love’s more traditional numbers have in spades. It’s not that they aren’t strong in their own right – in fact some of them, such as “Dust to Dust,” work very well within the record. The problem lies in what they are up against – quite simply, Kill for Love‘s pop numbers are leaps and bounds better than almost anything else released this year, and when the album pulls away from them, it can’t help but lose quite a bit of its strength. That issue aside, Kill for Love still manages to be a work not easily forgotten – with an emphasis on both atmosphere and melody that earns it a spot in the top tier of records released this year. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but its successes are both grand and numerous enough to suggest that the next time Chromatics come around, they’ll likely be delivering one.