Unlike seemingly everyone else I have not have seen the Ryan Gosling movie Drive yet. Time and a lack-of-opportunity have seemingly kept it at bay. I have spent quite a bit of time the thinking about the eighties influenced soundtrack though, even contributing a few tracks to a mammoth Drive-inspired Spotify playlist made by a friend.
Trying to replicate the soundtrack for a movie you haven't seen seems like a bizarre concept, but I was seduced by the soft, melancholic electronic new wave and post-punk the movie (apparently) contains.
Two tracks featuring the production work Chromatic's Johnny Jewel featured on Drive - one with fellow Chromatic Nat Walker as their side project Desire and one Chromatics track, 'Tick of the Clock'. There were rumours that another side-project from Jewel and Walker, the appropriately named Symmetry - Themes for an Imaginary Film, was originally to be the main soundtrack for the movie. Whilst the rumours have been denied one thing is clear - the dark, eighties post-punk influenced Italo sound of Jewel is what people take away from that movie and the idea of driving at night crops up frequently in their music, titles and artwork as much as it features there.
The Chromatics have cultivated something of a micro-scene since their rebirth from punk band to soft electronic dream-makers and Kill For Love is the ultimate product of their effort. It is long at 92-minutes across 17 songs and much like Symmetry and fellow eighties influenced electronic producer M83's latest double-album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, this feels like a soundtrack for a movie that doesn't quite exist.
But the length is justified - this is an album that shifts through ballads, mood pieces and the dark frisson of guitar heavy melancholy. The result is such that the music swings from beautiful to dark to heartbreaking and back, but the combinations and phases of this album feel as much like a cohesive story as many movies manage.
Starting with the inky black piano ballad of 'Into the Black', a cover of Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)' is a master stroke. Singer Ruth Radelet's vocals form a tribute to musical heroes set against a repeated bass line that sounds like pure Joy Division, the result sounding like Fleetwood Mac covering Neil Young with Hooky on bass.
The heavily auto-tuned vocals of 'These Streets Will Never Look the Same' almost distract from the tense strut of the guitar work but they totally justify their place later on 'Running from the Sun', another piano lead track slowly collapses under it's own emotional gravity, effortlessly showing up The Weeknd in the process.
Things get better they goes on. 'Birds of Paradise', positioned two-thirds of the way through the album (the yet-to-be-mentioned long closer aside for the moment), is a strikingly fragile piece that jumps from smokey vocals and vinyl clicks and pops to a cold, haunting melody. The vocal ends with "You are the black sky, always running for the sun... You're always running from the sun" before a long instrumental close and it is seemingly directed at the protagonist on 'Running from the Sun' (positioned with just one instrumental between it and 'Birds of Paradise').
It is exactly this kind of structure and pacing that means Kill For Love never outstays its welcome, benefiting from the director's cut treatment. Closing with a fourteen-minute instrumental in 'No Escape' feels totally natural... The entire album feels like a movie soundtrack with more to say than most actual movies. It is a conclusion that feels like the fade-to-black end credits to a weird, strung-out road trip.
Kill For Love is released on 21 May, pre-order on CD from Amazon.co.uk [affiliate link].
Listen to the aforementioned Drive inspired playlist: