Endless Playlist: Chromatics – “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around”

Jeff Terich
chromatics new album

Johnny Jewel and his expanded cast of Italians Do It Better collaborators have spent nearly a decade perfecting an aesthetic. Few likely remember that Chromatics began as a scuzzy post-punk group in the early ’00s, as heard on their 2003 debut album Chrome Rats vs Basement Rutz. But that band doesn’t really exist anymore, the only remaining member being guitarist Adam Miller. And since, Jewel — who joined after 2004’s Plaster Hounds — began to steer the ship into more atmospheric territory, first on 2007’s Night Drive, and subsequently on 2012’s Kill for Love. With Chromatics (and likewise Desire and Glass Candy), Jewel has helped build not just a sound, but an entire stylistic universe built around vivid dreamscapes, saturated colors, danceable beats and emotional darkness. It’s hallucinatory post-punk, or perhaps Giallo-disco. But it’s invariably treated with care and an ear for subtle, note-perfect touches.

For as many outtakes, b-sides and rarities fill up the Chromatics back-catalog however, when they aim to craft a genuine single (of sorts), it always hits that much harder. “I Can Never Be Myself When I’m With You,” from upcoming album Dear Tommy, is one of those tracks. At a little over five minutes long, it’s not the most epic Chromatics track by a long shot, but it feels utterly massive. A lot of that has to do with the production style, which can turn a comedy sample in the opening into a weird, eerie relic when filtered through Jewel’s analog synth spotlight.

It’s a classic Chromatics dance jam in the style of “Kill for Love,” or “In the City,” but it hits harder, with beats and distortion that make the highs seem much higher, and the lows nearly nonexistent. Ruth Radelet is in melancholy, mournful mode, chirping lines like “All the dreams we had were more than what we found” in her irresistible, ethereal deadpan. And that sadness lends even more gravity to what was already a striking, impeccably produced track. It’s a tradition as old as time itself — using dance music as a mode of therapy — but Chromatics still do it better than most.

[from Dear Tommy, out later this month; Italians Do It Better]
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