There’s a strong argument–whether or not you agree–that the best part of Drive was its soundtrack. Many groups were featured, all adrift in the same aesthetic: ’80s synths arranged in a 3 a.m. haze, with equally hazy vocals that hardly seemed human. It’s a soundtrack designed less for real cities than mythological ones, and it’s little wonder listeners found it striking.
At least one listener–even if that listener was only one, namely me–also found it resembled Portland group the Chromatics, whose track “Tick of the Clock” was on the film’s soundtrack. The Chromatics have done this sort of thing at least since 2007, with genre-pivot album Night Drive. The name could plausibly be a working film title that got truncated, and half its tracks could plausibly have made the soundtrack. Even the song titles fit: “Night Drive,” “Killing Spree,” “Mask,” “Accelerator”; if you’re looking for uncanny coincidences, they’re there. (Less of a coincidence: producer Johnny Jewel drafting a soundtrack that got rejected.)
Night Drive was intriguing already, and it’s probably going to look a lot more influential after group after group chases Drive‘s haze and, more pertinently, buzz and iTunes sales. Among the first of those groups are the Chromatics themselves, releasing single “Kill for Love” in advance of another album, slated for January. Listen below:
“Kill for Love” is nothing if not crafted. Every few bars comes a deft stroke that carves canyons into the track. Between these, the percussion might speed up, synths might twinkle atop the track, or the group might pare down its mix to the simplest rhythms, but everything proceeds at the same deliberate pace, making “Kill for Love” sound big without volume tricks or obvious soars. There’s little resolution, either in sound or in the woozy lyrics. “Everyone is slipping backwards,” vocalist Ruth Radelet sings, and the track slips forward in much the same way.
What keeps “Kill for Love” from dissolving into its own haze, then, are Radelet’s vocals. They’ve always been tentative; here they’re kept slightly apart from the mix and unprocessed. Compare, for instance, Drive‘s flagship track by College, “Real Hero“; where the vocalist there intentionally sounded less real, less human, Radelet’s voice here sounds nothing but. It’s a more intimate sound and surprisingly assertive for vocals so slight. The Chromatics might make soundtracks for dreams, but there are still people doing the dreaming. These people sound better than many.