Review Summary: A beautifully cinematic album that perfectly merges movie score instrumentals with mellowed out pop music.
To me, the greatest time of the day is that period between two and four in the morning, when the night feels most captivating. There is no feeling quite like hoping in the car and driving through the night with no destination in mind, just some good cigarettes and the feeling of the cool night air on your skin. With their third release under the name the Chromatics, the Portland based band/art project, provides an emotionally gripping soundtrack to this drive. Blending Miami Vice style synths and mellow guitar lines over a lengthy fifteen tracks, the songs bounce between sprawling instrumentals and beautifully crafted pop arrangements.
This incarnation of the Chromatics is actually an entirely new band save for one member, Adam Miller, who provided the guitar for the formally lofi punk sound the Chromatics used to carry. After the electronic music wizard Johnny Jewel (the man behind the extraordinary impressive Italians Do It Better label) got his hands on the Chromatics is when The Night Drive was crafted.
With the blend of Miller’s guitar, Jewel’s synthesizer, frequent IDIB collaborator Nat Walker’s drums, and Ruth Radlet’s mellow and dreamy vocals, the Chromatics new formula is an experiment that simply works. With a spoken word introduction of a woman calling her boyfriend after a party late at night, the mood is set for the sprawling album ahead. The album is quite long, almost overlong, but completely void of any filler. The first non-intro song, the titular Night Drive, sonically sets the tone of the album perfectly and continues through into the next couple songs. The flow of the album is strategic, beginning with a string of perfectly composed mellowed out pop songs, including their beautifully minimal arrangement of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Of course Radlet’s voice has nothing on Kate, and to compare the two songs is almost laughable because of what an unsurpassable classic the original is, but the Chromatics version is a perfect addiction to the album, without being too overly ambitious.
It’s with The Killing Spree, which the listener is first given a taste of the instrumental offerings the band has. Previously appearing on the IDIB compilation album, After Dark, in a shortened demo form, the final mix of this song is a beautiful composition, incorporating sounds not used on the more conventional songs like an organ and denser synth work. It is with Tick of the Clock though where the band reaches their most instrumentally impressive work. The song is a fifteen-minute long epic of slow building synthesizer pops and organ drones. To the casual listener the song may seem boring, hardly changing for the entire fifteen minutes, although where the song differs from, say, Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized, the twenty minute center piece of The Knife’s latest release, is that Tick of the Clock-in the right setting-provides the perfect back drop of cinematic sound. The song is actually one of their most recognized because it has been used in many commercials and movies, most famously it provided the majority of the score throughout the film Drive, starting Ryan Gosling.
On the initial release of The Night Drive, Tick of the Clock was the closing number, providing a decent enough close to an album that left you wanting just a little more. Shortly after though, the album was released in a “deluxe” form with five additional songs added to the end. This “deluxe” edition is now commonly accepted as the official version of the album, with the original completely out of print, for good reason too. These five songs oddly enough are quite easily the five best songs the album has to offer. Now with Tick of the Clock being a lead-in to the grand closing of the album, it all feels whole. Of the five tracks, the closing string of three songs is where the album packs its final punch. With Bell, the band has the most minimal of all their songs, featuring little more than a quiet drum pattern and Radlet’s voice, leading into The Gemini, a slow and emotionally touching song where instead of singing, Radlet reads a beautiful little poem. Then all of it is tied so nicely together with the closing track, Accelerator, easily the best instrumental on the record and the most fast paced song of the album. The track is a heart pounding arrangement that sounds like the audio form of speeding down a desolate highway into the night just before the sun starts to peak on the horizon, proving a grand and proper close to an album that plays more like a movie than a record.
“Reflecting in the water
A puzzle becomes clear
Two pairs of eyes