If our world tracked time by the music in our media rather than the calendars on our walls, 1981 and 2003 would be nearly identical twins. Except for every Joy Division, every Gang of Four, and every Public Image Limited our sister year concealed, 2003 is rife with thousands of imitators posturing their best post-punk pose. Chromatics' debut full-length, Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz, slips inconspicuously in between the two time periods as a release that doesn't fully lean on punk's structure for support, but doesn't exactly stand on its own two musical legs, either.
A reincarnation of Gold Standard Laboratories' jittery post-punks the Vogue and Soiled Doves, Chromatics inject venom, sass, and sugar into Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz's sonic veins to arrive at a sound that stabs its early '80s influence with serrated guitars and screeching vocals. Chrome Rats' opening cut, "N.B.A.", flails in typical post-punk fashion: drums pound out a simple beat, bass plows out a deep melody, all while spiky guitars thrash at a 90 degree angle, opening up wounds that Devon Welch's sassy shouts only further agitate.
The album's 13 tracks rarely deviate more than a few degrees from "N.B.A."'s focal point that carves up punk, dance and no wave into an amalgam that often teeters on tedious familiarity. However, despite Chrome Rats at times possessing its share of trite and typical moments, a few tracks shine through the muddle of mediocrity that currently clogs post-punk's collective arteries.
"Lithium Jaws", recalling the Stooges brashness and Iggy's squeal trapped inside Mission of Burma's body of work, channels its clear influences to an energetic apex. The lineage that Chromatics have intrinsically bound into their post-punk DNA rarely strays from the aforementioned forefathers of the genre, but when this four-some takes a deviating leap the benefits are obvious.
Even at its sub-90-second length, "Felt Tongue" reveals itself as one of Chrome Rats' most endearing tunes as it strips off the layers of unoriginality in favor of tense and jerky pop-via-no wave, with drummer Hannah Blilie (her twin brother being Jordan Blilie from the Blood Brothers) behind the microphone. The co-ed gender-mingling doesn't stop there, as another of Chromatics' most promising moments finds itself buried beneath the keyboard-swathed song of "Two of Every Creature", with female vocal chords coaxing you in deeper within the mix. Unfortunately, many of the disc's tracks fail as the mere futile descendents of their '81 counterpart.
More specifically, the bulk of Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz's content is the expected sum of its inspirations as the sonic puzzle pieces of Wire, the Fall, and the Slits tumble predictably into place. For the majority of the album's tenure, these post-punk pinpoints aren't a source to extract influence from, but merely a blueprint form which to assemble their own unoriginal tunes.
It's not that Chrome Rats doesn't possess its bundle of quality music (for the most part it does), it's just that Chromatics so clearly borrow bits of music from the first wave of progressive punks that this release feels utterly irrelevant despite its ability to rouse sassy energy and bratty fun. Hopefully, Chromatics will resurrect songs of their own to ward off the two decade old curse that lingers over Chrome Rats vs. Basement Rutz like a ghost.