A masterful return from Johnny Jewel's beloved band.
When Twin Peaks returned after a 25-year hiatus, David Lynch tapped Johnny Jewel for help with the score. Most of the music wasn't used (and was later released separately), but the series featured two performances from Chromatics, Jewel's most famous band. It's not surprising that Lynch would turn to Jewel: much of his solo music concerns scoring film and television, real and imaginary, while projects like Chromatics were basically designed for film and television, referencing '80s new wave, rock and disco with a detached cool. This sound peaked around the time of Drive, a film that was meant to be scored by Jewel but ended up featuring two of his bands, including Chromatics. Since Drive, and Chromatics' lauded 2012 album, Kill For Love, it's been hard to overstate the group's influence. They have plenty of imitators (even on their own label), and their music has appeared on a laundry list of mainstream shows, from Gossip Girl to Riverdale.
While Chromatics has stayed in the mainstream consciousness thanks to TV and film, new material has taken the form of one-off tracks amidst a spate of reissues. Fans have been waiting seven years for a new LP called Dear Tommy, which was apparently destroyed two years ago before Jewel promised a 2018 release. What we have instead is Closer To Grey, an album announced the day before its release earlier this month. But even if it's not the record fans expected, it's refreshing to hear the Chromatics sound done by Chromatics once again.
Closer To Grey touches on many of the sounds and feelings that have earned the group such a large following: shoegaze pop, jangly '80s indie rock, shades of Italo. Jewel's flirtations with B-movie horror reappears in the cover artwork and the Goblin-inspired synths of "Whisper In The Halls." The album even begins like the last one did, with a stark cover of a classic rock song. You might roll your eyes at hearing a version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence," but Chromatics pull it off thanks to their trademark blend of frosty production and Ruth Radelet's warm, breathy voice.
Elsewhere, the group applies new twists to their sound, trying out trip-hop ("Light As A Feather," "Touch Red") and, on the delicate "Move A Mountain," a shade of chamber pop. With woodwinds and electric piano foregrounding Radelet's voice, "Move A Mountain" highlights the group's songwriting. Where some of Chromatics' past work got by on mood alone, Closer To Grey is full of heartfelt, catchy songs, with some of Radelet's most robust vocals yet—a far cry from the wispy "I Want Your Love." Listening through Closer To Grey is to hear every part of Chromatics sounding bigger and bolder than before.
For a group whose most popular songs include renditions of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" and Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," it's typical Chromatics that the album's most moving song is also a cover. "On The Wall" transforms a 1987 The Jesus & Mary Chain album cut into a stomping fuzz-rock song. The group sound even more like The Jesus & Mary Chain than the Scottish band did on the original. Gorgeous sighs, enormous kick drums and a prickly guitar solo light a fire underneath the band's chilly approach.
"On The Wall" only confirms what's so impressive about Chromatics. The group are master interpreters, taking detritus from pop culture's past and turning it all into something that is stylishly retro yet undeniably current. It's no coincidence that they performed at Twin Peaks' fictional Roadhouse bar with acts like Nine Inch Nails, Eddie Vedder and Shawn Colvin. Their music is timeless but pulls on nostalgic heartstrings—it can be goth, earnest, sad, happy, distant and close all at once. It scratches a very specific itch for atmospheric pop and rock music that most of their imitators still can't touch.
Tracklist01. The Sound Of Silence
02. You're No Good
03. Closer To Grey
04. Twist The Knife
05. Light As A Feather
06. Move A Mountain
07. Touch Red
08. Through the Looking Glass
09. Whispers In the Hall
10. On The Wall
11. Love Theme From Closer To Grey
12. Wishing Well