After Dark 2, the second collaborative album from dance label Italians Do It Better begins with a misnomer. Opener "Warm in the Winter" by an impossibly chipper Glass Candy betrays the label's recent output. The Chromatics’ (headed by IDIB mastermind Johnny Jewel) 2012 Kill for Love was a moody dance masterpiece, crafting a place where dance floors and clubs offer but a brief respite from the evils hiding out on the other side of a disco ball. The drumless version in particular became the de-facto midnight soundtrack, press play and drive through the night with the windows down; pretending you’re the sole survivor in a city that's haunted. If macabre dance music were possible, Kill for Love made it happen.
What then to do with opener "Warm in the Winter"?As Andrew Gaerig poignantly wrote in his review of the song for Pitchfork, "musically it's right in the label's wheelhouse, but thematically, it's not," and he's absolutely right. Much of Johnny Jewel's work with the Chromatics and nearly all of his work with the Symmetry project is thematically frigid, restlessly searching for something that may never be found. Darkness is a prevalent theme in the works he contributes to, from the original After Dark's "Handsin the Dark," to the cover of Neil Young's "Into the Black" closing out Kill for Love (Drumless). "You came down to this place to fill out the dark corners with the everlasting light," singer Ida No contrastingly declares over a stately synth-pop track midway through. No's enraptured by the beat, and it's become her personal mission to bring warmth to a freezing world.
The staid pace of Desire's sole contribution "Tears From Heaven," lowers the temperature and we're back in familiar territory. "I stare out stain-glass windows, but I didn't see anything. I live just like a shadow, I didn't feel anything," is the deflated mantra of the song. Desire namecheck Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," but it’s song's win against all odds mentality is buried under shovelfuls of dour sentiments like "I tried to shut off my mind, but it didn't do anything."
Elsewhere, the fragmented piano of "Half Lives," by newcomers Twisted Wires recalls the bleakness of David Bowie's Berlin Trilogy. "This is the end," the song begins in a lurid tone, and slowly devolves from there, until a spectral wordless chorus emerges. Washes of synthesizer and a steady beat can't save this song from its eventual fate. On their matinee appearance, Glass Candy cloak themselves in a similar apparition, "The Possessed" a dense maze of robotic snaps, whirls, and burbles. Here No is telling of obsession and the inevitable disappointment that follows, "our cares are laughable," she sings as the song slowly coils around you and cuts off all oxygen.
Back in November when the album was only a promise, I wrote of stand-out "Cherry" being a song that reflects the Chromatics, "alternatively dreamy/dreary universe; where every relationship, every kiss, every "fleeting" moment has the weight of the world bearing down upon it." And months later, the statement still rings true. The crying synth sheds more tears than Ruth Radelet on the song and the chugging bass is the only thing keeping her from collapsing. Even surrounded by so much weighty material, "Cherry" feels especially heavy. In the most somber moment, Cherry's true nature is pinpointed, "Cherry can be very sweet when she needs a friend, but it's only a mask she wears so she can pretend," is Radelet's realization. I admit it's a moment I've had more than once in my own life, rushing to someone's side at moment's notice in a time of trouble and left waiting when the roles are reversed. It can be frustrating, deflating, and downright agonizing; calling into question entire relationships. Radelet plays a different kind of waiting game in the song's final verse, praying Cherry sees the beauty in herself that is abundantly clear to Radelet. The realization never comes and their relationship goes running into the night as the moaning synth pays one final visit.
The finale of the record fully captures the haunted appeal, with Mike Simonetti's "The Magician" playing as the outtake from an Argento film. Closer "Redhead's Feel More Pain," by Glass Candy begins with a mordant spoken-word piece, and a minor keyboard figure ensuring the song a spot in the original Exorcist film. That Johnny Jewel's Symmetry project's lone contribution to the LP was "Heart of Darkness," is apt. These are songs made for the darkness, for nights when the combined weight of: doubt, disappointment, and disillusionment is at its heaviest. But for all the darkness there are moments of hope, when the light shines through to let you know that dawn will come, and the weight of the night will soon be shed.