A night drive might sprawl, but you wouldn’t call it baggy. Chromatics’ Kill For Love continues this shaped and shapely mood from 2007’s Night Drive, and further extends it to 90 minutes or so — but this doesn’t mean we find filler in place of (love) killer. Rather, the album takes shape as an automobile passenger who at times nearly drops off, but pleasantly, interspersed with periods of watching lights and scenery. There’s a melancholy mood that also continues where Night Drive left off, a little darker now, with just a touch more bitterness in the bittersweet. The opening cover chosen here represents this shift: Where previous Chromatics choices (Springsteen aside) were mostly from synth classics like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” or Dark Day’s “Hands In the Dark,” Kill For Love presents a virtuoso rendition of Neil Young’s tragic “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).”
The slightest hint of fear, of the gothic — as romantic — remains apparent in titles like “Back From the Grave” or in the roar (of grease, or of the crowd?) that forms a background to standout “The Page;” while “Candy” is a lyrical echo of Iggy Pop’s heartstring-tugging song of the same name. Staying under glass, it sounds so good tonight. Chromatics have long been masters of the hypnotic disco rhythm, the hips swinging in slow motion, the finger snap a drawn-out rumble. Here, they’ve honed their groove iteration to the finest of points: “the slower rhythms of our dreams.” Repetition is the death drive, the urge to an equilibrium experienced only in the past, the absence of the possibility of individuality, a symbol of absence — but it’s also inextricably entwined with the pleasure principle.
And this is a sexy album. The grandiose, New Order-esque melodies of the title track, the characteristic use of vinyl crackle, and the spare guitar lines throughout add to a unique, almost dubby sense of the synthetic as organic, of the human as desiring machine. In birthing a sensibility that encompasses the transition from classic disco to italo, minimal wave and synthpop, Chromatics avoid the slavish pastiche all too common in our retromaniac era and create something entirely novel yet instantly recognizable. It is a reflective, though subtle, quality that does this work of differentiation — not only the reflexivity of off-modernism (Svetlana Boym’s term), but the literal and tragic reflection of Narcissus and our aforementioned nymph. One of Night Drive’s highlights, “I Want Your Love,” contrasted the reflection that “casts no reflection” with that which is seen as “just a reflection,” and it’s this space of beautiful and paradoxically laid-back tension that Kill For Love inhabits.
A nostalgia for the present overlays the inherent melancholy of the past as such: nostalgia “for the present perfect and its lost potential” (Boym again). On this note, the conceit of the telephone call develops from Night Drive, but there, the subject was on her way from the club to a rendezvous, whereas on Kill For Love we hear the deletion of her pleading voicemail, the death of love itself.
That’s not to say that there are no missteps — or rather, microsleep swerves. In particular, the use of Auto-Tune sits oddly for me with the retro, synth-biological mood of the rest of the album, breaking the spell even as it works well for the individual tracks as such. The lyrics occasionally tend toward the cliché, and a tad of engine grease could have been trimmed from the running time. In contrast to our death drive, though, these aren’t fatal flaws; they add to the album’s humanity, its imperfection, the absence of the coldness (even if erotic) that we tend to associate with the synthetic. In other words — intended as praise for the damned, anything but faint — Kill For Love embodies the repetitive absence of a crash.