Welcome to Electronic Playground. In this weekly column, we will cover tech-heavy music that is a large segment of the Alternative/Indie movement of today. In general, these bands do not see the popularity of some "less out there" acts, so do not be discouraged if you haven't heard of them. We will focus on all types of electronic music in a genre that is known for its subcategories.
This week, we are going to take a short break from synth wave and focus on another electronic act that has a more obvious tie-in to the alternative scene. Chromatics, from Portland, Oregon, began in 2001 and consist of Ruth Radelet, Adam Miller, Nat Walker, and Johnny Jewel. While electronics are still at the forefront, Chromatics also add their own guitars, drums, and additional instruments to go with their heavy synth sound, which come in handy on many of our favorite tracks. When thinking of choices for this week, I came across a song that was around quite a bit when I was writing debate columns against Michael. The song, "Into the Black," is an absolute monster of a cover of Neil Young's famous track, "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." Interestingly, the lyrics from Young's original tune were used by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, in his suicide note. The Chromatics version has every bit of the darkness from the original with a bit of their own thrown in. Not only does the cover do justice to the track, in our minds, it extends it. The band are getting quite a bit of exposure from media as well, having had their art used in numerous television shows and in the movies, Drive and Taken 2. We chose three of our favorite songs to feature and they happened to be covers. Please feel free to check their whole catalogue of work as Chromatics have a great deal to offer everyone. "Tick of the Clock" is a great original instrumental track from the Night Drive album, which was featured on the Drive Motion Picture Soundtrack. Check it out if you want to hear more of their electronic driven stuff.
Into the Black - Chromatics
The first thing we hear as the song starts is a slightly distorted guitar playing the introduction from the original track. The chorus effects do a good job pulling us in. The guitar work is beautiful and on par with the original. It's not the most difficult riff in the world, but Chromatics made sure to be good to Young. Radelet comes on with her smooth voice, which sounds oddly similar to Young's. Radelet shows her skills, but as usual, doesn't go out of her way to blow the roof off. Clearly, capturing the essence of the original while adding a bit of a third dimension to it. The piano, guitars, and slow percussion and brush use carry the melody. There is also an added electronic effect thrown in occasionally to remind you this is an electronic band.
Girls Just Wanna Have Some - Chromatics
Yes, as the title eludes to, this is a cover of Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Chromatics have an entire album of cover/remixes dedicated to the Lauper tune. The version listed (pay attention to the title) is by far our favorite. This song is intriguingly dark and slow moving. I could imagine using the song as a soundtrack to a scene in a seedy nightclub in the 80s, which in our books, is a high compliment when it comes to this genre of music. The vocals are smooth and subtle but layered, which gives the impression you're hearing the words coming from dozens of people. As far as vocals are concerned, the singer does an amazing job keeping the melody of the original and not deviating with unnecessary falsettos. You can tell the talent and beauty in her voice is there, but she is doing justice to the song, not showing off. Synthetic noises to simulate the original Lauper chorus were used as a solo of sorts toward the end, which was a nice touch. Chromatics have a way of paying homage to a track while making it seem like it was their track in the first place. We are huge fans of Young and Lauper but now we can't seem to listen to the originals without listening to these Chromatics covers after. It's like having another chapter to a book you had finished.
I'm on Fire - Chromatics
This one has really grown on us. This is a cover of Bruce Springsteen's 1985 hit, "I'm on Fire." The track features the same rolling bass line and guitar intro of the original. As are all of these original songs, this track is straight fire to begin with. The synth backdrop in the cover makes this track feel almost as if you're stepping into a prom. Once the vocals kick in, you begin to feel the original song to come through and the nostalgia kicks in. I'll let you write the rest from yourself.
How to Listen:
Make sure you're selecting tracks with the correct names. For example, with the Cyndi Lauper cover, there are multiple versions on Spotify so if you catch the wrong track, you could be listening to some heavy drum track and wondering what the hell we are talking about. Just be careful, but enjoy all those other tracks too! I used a set of over ear headphones for the bass. The music doesn't feature many deep basses like some other acts where you need subs and what not. The over ear headphones help with the mixing elements and picking up the chorus tracks through "Into the Black."