Chromatics are Disco Ball Magicians

Johnny Jewel's outfit releases a new single ahead of the forthcoming "Dear Tommy"
By    March 9, 2015

Peter Holslin lost his sunglasses

As is the case with all of Johnny Jewel’s projects, the inspirations behind Chromatics are clear: ’70s glam, ’80s thrillers, vintage post-punk and Italo disco. What’s mysterious, though, is how Jewel–the man behind Glass Candy, Symmetry and the Italians Do It Better label–manages to distill so much fashion, beauty, heartbreak and intrigue into his ridiculously simple songs. What’s his secret? Certainly it has a lot to do with mood and texture. On “The Page,” from the Chromatics’ superb 2012 album Kill for Love, every tone on it sounds painstakingly curated–from the twangy distorted guitar to the submerged bass.

But I get the sense that Jewel and his collaborators spend a lot of time fine-tuning their performances as well. Jewel’s SoundCloud page is filled with b-sides and alternate takes, and the tracks that always end up on the group’s official releases invariably glimmer with subtlety. Their newest song, “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around,” will slink right by if you’re not paying attention.

Coming off Chromatics’ forthcoming album Dear Tommy (their follow-up to Kill for Love), it’s a nightclub hymn revolving around a wilted relationship, and on it Jewel and his collaborators seem to be doing their best to stay cool and collected.

“Baby, I’m not the same me,” Lead singer Ruth Radelet sighs over a gently insistent cocktail of bass and kick drum. 

Radelet is always a steely performer, and here her voice is crystal-clear but also kind of aloof, betraying little emotion. But still, you can detect the tension. In the chorus, she plunges into a chamber of high, reverberated multi-tracked harmonies, over handclaps and hi-hats. Meanwhile, the distorted treble-y guitar rubs against the straight-ahead beat, flickering like a haunted disco ball. Sure, any idiot can vamp on a repetitive groove for 16 bars: it’s the quickest and easiest way to get a dance party going. But as this song shows, few besides Chromatics can turn such a well-worn approach into a thing of magic.

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