There is power in subtly, in things not quite tangible lying just below the surface. You can sense them, but you can’t pinpoint or name them. Fleeting feelings … glimpses … gone as quickly as they appear.
No genre bordering pop music is subtle. There are rarely competing layers of sound or uncomfortable complexities—by definition and intent, they are guaranteed to be easily digestible for the casual listener. Chromatics are the antithesis of pop simplicity: a band whose power lies in what’s missing instead of what’s there.
The Portland, Oregon quartet relies on an expansive but minimalist electro-noir sound: simple hypnotizing beats, vocals, and melodies layered in a way that the whole is greater than the simple sum of its parts. Ruth Radelet’s vocals croon but never rise to a fever pitch, never quite open wide in the operatic crescendo they seem to be reaching for. But, the beauty of Chromatics’ sound is no less intense due to the intricate dance of Johnny Jewel on keys, Adam Miller on guitar, and Nat Walker on drums—all coming together seamlessly with Ruth’s voice. Then there is the fifth, silent-but-manic (and integral) member of this quartet: the highly curated lights, digital animations, and stage production are as much a member of Chromatics as their sound.
The band played Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club as part of their DOUBLE EXPOSURE tour with supporting act Desire (of whom Johnny Jewel and Nat Walker are also members). Backlit by an ominous red glow, the quartet opened their set with “Tick Of The Clock” off 2007’s album Night Drive. This was a perfect opening to the 15-song set: a soft-driving song full of empty space between notes that ratcheted up to the intensity of “Lady.” The set was built cohesively, intentionally avoiding high swells and low lulls, though some notable points besides “Lady” came with the crowd-favorite cover of the Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” and their own “Cherry.”
Cherry Can be very sweet when she needs a friend But it’s only A mask that she wears so she can pretend And I can’t keep running All of the time No I can’t keep running All of the time…
– “Cherry” from Cherry EP (2014)
Chromatics’ set was beautiful to experience—the sounds, the lights, the feeling of being in an ’80s-inspired arthouse-meets-noir film. Every member played their part to a tee—at once intriguing, entertaining, and drawing the entire crowd deeper into their world. To experience Chromatics live, catch them on their European tour starting in October with dates in Norway, Germany, the UK, and many others.