Johnny Jewel and his Chromatics project have had listeners falling at their feet for their recently released second album ‘Kill for Love’ with good reason; it’s easily the album of this year. Putting paid to the general impression that albums should be ten track forty minute affairs (this is ninety minutes over sixteen tracks), it shows how you can take the spirit of disco and make it melancholic beyond repair, like Julie Cruise singing “I’m in love with a German film star” while on a really bad trip on lost on a highway somewhere.
Live they set the lighting to appropriately moody and spend most of the time washed in dark blue with the occasional white light giving us a glimpse of the band with only Jewel showing any animation by bopping his head and twisting knobs looking like a cross between Kevin Shields and Pete Wiggs. Most of the songs are given a robust punch of additional percussion which makes the beat pound much more effectively, ‘Kill for Love’s title track is an example of this, the beats are given a techno edge, the moog and bass squelches and heavier and the guitar is much more prominent at times reminiscent of Robin Guthrie’s sublime strumming with The Cocteau Twins, all good things.
At times they seem too eager to finish a song meaning they end up stumbling over what they are doing, this may have something to do with coming on late but when they do let themselves delve into their music like on elongated versions of ‘Lady’, ‘I Want Your Love’ or the banging rendition of ‘These Streets Will Never Look the Same’ they truly come alive. Even a subtle addition makes a difference, ‘Back from the Grave’ may be a tad too twee recorded, live they stick a huge trance influenced riff over the top of it and watch as the waves of synthesised euphoria washes over the audience. Jewel is a very canny artist, he has used disco as a template and added very British sounds to it to create a kind of despondent disco and throughout the set there are nods to the spirit of Saint Etienne, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, all of them rock bands playing American disco, Chromatics are the opposite, an American disco band who just want to live out their rock dreams while making you sad, they do both brilliantly.
Alan Palomo’s Neon Indian project released one of last year’s finest long players in ‘Era Extrana’, its psychedelic wig outs and electro nu-gaze came across as a more genuine attempt at left-field pop music coming from the same page as MGMT. Unfortunately due to an error by the promoters of this gig to not realise that Chromatics were going to be the act responsible for the gig selling out and switching them round, his band plays to an audience depleted by at least a third, many of whom take on the “you have to draw blood to impress us” stance favoured by the kind of scenesters that inhabit this part of London.
It’s a shame as he has plenty to offer but to a disinterested crowd there’s nothing to feed off, tracks such as ‘Blindside Kiss’ and ‘Hex Girlfriend’ shine on record but look and feel too try hard to get people into it, this isn’t helped by the annoying habit of ending each song with ninety seconds of indulgent synth squelches and old computer games samples obviously from the same pack as the ropey Spectrum 48k video back drop.
As an artist who genre hops continually once it’s out of favour (check his brilliant electro-pop Ghosthustler tracks), it all feels a bit coals to Newcastle, this is the country where shoegaze started, precocious Americans are unfortunately not going to win over a more precocious audience.
Words by Chris Todd
Photo by Ben Meadows