Reflecting On: Cartel – Chroma


During 2015, we’re going to be looking back on some of the best albums that were released 10 years ago and discussing their legacy. Feel free to share your thoughts and memories in the replies. Enjoy!

For me, Chroma always served as a bridge album between the pop punk golden years of the early 2000’s and the rise of harder rock and blended genres in the later part of the decade. The album has become a pop punk staple over the years, but it’s hard to say exactly why. As good as the songs are, there is little on the record that actually pushes the boundaries of the genre; Chroma just does it better.

Cartel are also part of the last wave of the musicians to find mainstream success with the genre. Over the last decade, the band has released several incredibly strong records, but have been forced to stand up to Chroma by fans and critics alike. The album is as much of a roadblock as it is a landmark.

On paper, Chroma is a more or less a standard rock record. It’s a pop rock album that focuses on the angst of teens/young adults and the ideas of chasing love, living free and the usual fare for these types of things. But being titled Chroma, it follows an arch of passion through every ‘color on the spectrum’; starting brightly tongue-in-cheek with crisp rock and follows a spiral into darker pop that reflects on the earlier lyrics in a much more somber light.

Chroma is a message of growth and youthful idealism that slowly fades as it ages. Although nearly every song has the attention and detail required to make it a single, the shift in tone and maturity mimics that of the rock community in general at the time, as it lost the innocence of the original pop punk movement.

The real magic to Chroma isn’t the just the sound, style or the crisp production. It’s much more subtle. The guitars are loud, melodic and meticulously poppy. The music itself is so good that it almost sounds robotic, as though meticulously crafted to be perfectly symmetrically layered while maintaining the edge of amateur song writers. It’s one of the pure efforts of a fresh band pouring energy and ideas into a mix that works on a sincere level. However, the themes of the album are what helps it to endure.

Chroma’s legacy is built on a scale of youthful rebellion. What starts as power rock blasting away the standard flare of pop punk ideals and teen passion quickly grows matured; recapped through the eyes of someone who now sees those same ideals in a more balanced tone. Several of the later songs act as near sequels to many of the songs earlier on the album.

“Honestly” and “Settle Down” orbit each other in an odd symbiosis. “Honestly” worships the idea of chasing young love and speaking your mind (“You tell me what you think about being open / About being honest with yourself… I’m spinning while I’m falling down / Now you know why I’m begging you to stay”) while the later dramatically shifts tone.

“Settle Down” shifts perspectives to a failing relationship that has gone through normal trials and finds itself failing. The idealistic love chase has been replaced with knock down arguments that tear these relationships to pieces. “Consider this: he was busy moving on while she was busy trying to pass the time / Between the previous and next nervous breakdown”, and “Just say you left me like you could / Although you said you never would / Just say it’s done and be gone”.

“Burn This City” is the epitome of college angst. It cherishes the idea of adventure and conquering the city amidst “games of lust and love”. While this is nothing new to the world of pop punk, the near immediate retraction and realization that this type of idealism doesn’t work out, is. Just a few songs later on “If I Fail”, Pugh sings, “I could put my trust in giving up the heart / It makes the difference / And how can you afford to settle down / When I would promise to love you now / But I would lovingly let you down”.

The album closer, “A” is the final wrap that brings the album into the new age of music. Pugh sings “You can take this however you want / Just don’t waste your breathe unless you can save us”. Where “Say Anything (Else)” demanded free thought and open, energetic dialogue, “A” finds the band not particularly retracting the ideals of their earlier songs, but sees them now in a new light. Pop punk’s standard war cries are optimistic at best, but can easily be beaten down by life.

Chroma isn’t a sad record. It’s a real record. The maturity in the writing is subtle and granular, the way that the realizations in life are. The only real problem with the album is that after its release, the music scene seemed to change. Pop punk took a back seat to alternative and hardcore for a few years, and bands attempted to adjust in several ways.

Since then, Cartel have put out several amazing albums (the Self-Titled is my personal favorite) that have unfairly been stood side by side to Chroma as a standard rather than just as additions to their discography. However, with the fall of popularity in pop punk in the years after the album’s release, it seems harder for the band to shake the impossibly high expectations of fans based on this album alone.

Chroma is an achievement in pop punk and saw the last glimmer of the genre acting as a mainstream force. But, given the exposure that it had to a shifting audience, fans may give it more credit than it deserves. Cartel’s writing and talent grew exponentially after Chroma, but even ten years later they almost seem to be stalked by the popularity of this album, at least from an outside perspective. The band and the scene itself were growing out of the youthful ideals as the album released. That sense of maturity is a timeless sensation that sticks with you as you age and grow. Maybe that’s why all these years later we still love it.

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has seen Will Pugh play live in the same green sweater he wears in the “Luckie St.” music video. Is that a creepy thing to be aware of? Oh golly…


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