Closer to Grey is Chromatics’ surprise album that dropped without announcement. The only forewarning was that New Zealand received it hours before everyone else. Billed as Chromatics’ seventh studio album, their sixth album is still in the works. Logistically it doesn’t make sense, but those are the advantages to multi-instrumentalist Johnny Jewel running his own production label, Italians Do It Better. It affords the band the chance to build music within their own timeline, without pressures from the label to push anything out before it is ready.
For those looking for a Dear Tommy update, the anticipated album was announced in 2014. After a near-death experience on Christmas Day 2015, Johnny Jewel returned to California and thought the best course of action was to destroy the 15,000 CDs and 10,000 vinyl copies that had been made of Dear Tommy. Jewel’s manager Alexis Rivera reiterated what most people thought when he announced on Twitter, “Is it weird to destroy & delete your album once it’s done? Fuck yes. It’s also financially insane. But it wasn’t the first time he’s done it.” Rivera goes on to discuss how Jewel also destroyed copies of Kill for Love before rerecording it and making a much better iteration that reflected his current outlook.
Kill for Love started with a cover to highlight a well-known song produced under Chromatics’ influence. Closer to Grey begins the same way with a reproduction of, “The Sound of Silence”. This reproduction of a classic song stands as a litmus test to introduce listeners to the sonic direction of the band. Almost everyone has heard the various iterations of Simon & Garfunkel’s classic song. With it as the opening backdrop, Chromatics can show what their production style adds to such a classic song.
The album combines gothic, electro-pop vibes to build an eerie ambiance. Singer Ruth Radelet sings like an ethereal angel, delivering songs that sit better in a lounge than on your feet in a dance club. Each song leads elegantly to the next, adding easy repeatability to the full album. Even the more up-tempo songs such as, “You’re No Good” and “Whispers in the Hall” sound as if sung by a hauntingly beautiful ghost, luring listeners deeper into the album.
Electronic production is key to the Chromatics experience. In the songs, “Through the Looking Glass” and “Love Theme From Closer to Grey” vocals take a back seat as the focus switches to synth and instrumental. Radelet uses her voice to emit evocative breaths that explore another way to utilize her vocal instrument. The rest of the band comes beautifully together with the meticulous organization of a high-production slow jam.
For fans of Chromatics, Closer to Grey provides an updated tracklist to fill their playlists. As the band’s musical skills increase, so do the technical innovations that allow them to explore a whole new wave of sound. So much pressure has been put on Dear Tommy that Closer to Grey allows Chromatics the space to flex their musical talent. Like an unexpected present, the surprise adds more to the gift.