Let’s can it with the spaghetti references… capisce? When Italians Do It Better released the first After Dark compilation, way back in 2007, it came as a resurgence of interest in the synth-happy ’70s-’80s European dance subgenre known as Italo disco was at its peak (after being kickstarted a few years earlier by Metro Area’s Morgan Geist, among others). By now, producer Johnny Jewel’s signature hybrid of post-punk bleakness and Giorgio Moroder-minded synth arpeggios has long since congealed into its own distinctive sound, most notably with the Drive soundtrack and Chromatics’ now-on-vinyl 2012 tour de force Kill for Love.
The latest track to emerge from the upcoming After Dark 2 compilation, “Cherry,” is another icily hypnotic variation on Jewel’s single-minded theme. Like the video edit of fellow comp cut “Looking for Love,” this one is a slowly gliding work of vaguely sinister synth-pop, fronted by vocalist Ruth Radelet’s narcotized coo. The accompanying video, shot during recording, unsurprisingly shares the grainy, vintage look of Chromatics other Kill for Love clips, the footage of guitar also recalling Kill for Love‘s album cover.
It’s telling, though, that YouTube commenters are comparing the lyrics to those of Magnetic Fields’ indie-pop classic “Candy.” Any charges of theft here are a stretch — the similarities don’t go much further than a female narrator who “can’t keep crying all of the time” (it’s “lying” on the Magnetic Fields’ song) — but the mere existence of such allegations illustrates how far Jewel has moved beyond pure atmosphere. If “Cherry” had been on Kill for Love, it would’ve had most in common with the poppier highlights, such as “Back From the Grave.”
The stabs of guitar, the crisp drums, the icy synth chords all evoke the lyrical mentions of running, crying, and masks. And sure, “Cherry” will make great background music. But it’s a catchy and emotionally resonant song in the foreground, too. Chromatics are ready for their close-up. Italian or not, they’ve done a nice job, for sure. Now let’s leave The Italian Job out of this.