Music Reviews
Closer to Grey

Chromatics Closer to Grey

(Italians Do It Better) Rating - 7/10

It's best to think of Chromatics' long-awaited sixth release, Dear Tommy, as an illusion. Instead of Tommy, now five years in the making and with no signs of it ever releasing, the Portland electro-pop purveyors respond to that album's deliberately mythical status with Closer to Grey—45 minutes of new material that should whet the appetite of anyone who's heard isolated snippets of frontman Johnny Jewel's problem child. It's a clear indicator that Jewel wants us to turn our attention away from Tommy, at least for the time being (on Chromatics' official website, it still shows up as an upcoming release with blank spaces filling the numbers on the tracklist).

Closer to Grey is sequenced just like any Chromatics release since 2007's Night Drive—dark and set in a seductively dim-lit atmosphere, albeit, in a more condensed manner. It sets an apt contrast to 2012's Kill for Love, which thankfully, had a considerable amount of lush, superbly crafted singles to match its sweeping scope. Even if Chromatics opt for brevity over bloat, that's not to say that Grey moves any quicker. A cover of The Sound of Silence opens the album with a downcast spirit, turning the Simon & Garfunkel staple into a haunting mood piece that, similar to past offerings, reconstructs nostalgia with the crackle and hiss of vinyl—setting up a hopeless narrative for what's to come despite its gleaming vintage sound.

Outside of sprightlier singles like Twist a Knife and the title track, both demonstrative of Chromatics' deft swings into dance-oriented bliss, most of Grey addresses all of their attendees with something of a resigned air. Touch Red and Wishing Well, both somber and sinister, both allude to the absences we seek to reverse—whether it's the loss of what's familiar or the yearning for intimate contact. Both are effective for vocalist Ruth Radelet to convey her message, using her treacly whisper to lure you into the songs' dreamlike state. Otherwise, Whispers in the Hall is cold and nightmarish in tone, where she provides courage against the ghostly apparitions that haunt us all, both literally and figuratively, over creepy synths reminiscent of eighties horror film scores.

There's this long-running perception that Chromatics fail to evolve—and the majority of Closer to Grey does reinforce that notion—but the changeable nature of these songs also reveals a willingness to take new sonic detours. Every Chromatics album will feature the usual motifs—the noir-ish forays into cinematic terrain and the stylish femme fatale imagery—elements they've expertly etched into their visual aesthetic. That may have something to do with how they've become notorious for being enigmatic and playfully elusive, which makes it easy to forget that they haven't stopped releasing numerous one-offs and compilation tracks. Dear Tommy may still be lost in the ether, and who knows when Jewel decides to complete it. But Closer to Grey feels like a fully-fleshed concept, and it should be considered the long-awaited follow-up to Kill for Love fans have been clamoring for for years.