Still flirting with the boundaries of the innocuous folktronica genre, Sam Genders returns with Chromatics. Revisiting debut release Black Light again shows how much the last couple of years have improved Genders as a songwriter: the tracks here are brooding, thoughtful and more than just its surface-level sounds.
Chromatics’ songs are lyrically much richer, delving into murky, personal realms and questioning a sense of human purpose on its title and standout track. A self-enquiry takes place here, accompanied by quiet soft piano arpeggios which could definitely be louder and more prominent within the instrumentation – they’re absolutely gorgeous, with Genders pining away over it all asking if “this is all we’ve got”. It’s powerful stuff and when it’s combined with a strong melody, it makes for one of the most beautifully constructed tracks of the year so far.
As the album progresses there is a noticeable lean to personal folk: the simple ‘Just A Hair’s Breadth’ is arguably more striking than the percussion and synth-laden lead single and opener ‘Phantom Power’. Not many artists can successfully use the line “little ripples like CGI waves deconstructing reality day-by-day” but it’s effortless here, and it’s an honest observation that makes Diagrams a warm and welcoming musical project.
There are a couple of weaker tracks that lack any real staying power, though: the heavier instrumentation of ‘The Light And The Noise’ doesn’t fit brilliantly with Genders’ vocal style and ‘Serpent’ disrupts the upbeat, catchy groove from ‘Dirty Broken Bliss’ before it. In terms of this album they seem like a step backwards, jarring with the beautiful sound that has been crafted by the rest of Chromatics.