The Strange Saga of Chromatics’ Still-Unreleased “Dear Tommy”

A timeline of what has become perhaps indie music’s biggest white whale.

In December 2014, Chromatics announced that their fifth album, Dear Tommy, would be released the following Valentine's Day. It made perfect sense that the world's foremost purveyors of highly stylized, ominously sexy disco noir would release a record on such a date—but more than five years later, Dear Tommy has yet to materialize.

That's partly because on Christmas Day 2015, Chromatics producer and lead songwriter, Johnny Jewel, nearly drowned in Hawaii, causing him to so intensely re-evaluate his life that he eventually destroyed tens of thousands of copies of the album that had already been made. (Jewel also destroyed the first version of Chromatics' 2012 classic, Kill for Love.) The intervening years have seen a maddening number of false starts and missed release dates. But they've also found the former Portlander helming more than 20 other projects, including performing on Twin Peaks: The Return, becoming a David Lynch confidant, releasing his first solo albums and becoming a sought-after film score composer in Hollywood. On top of all that, Chromatics have put out well over an album's worth of material, most of which is extremely promising.

In advance of the band's two Portland shows, we've compiled a timeline of what has become perhaps indie music's biggest white whale: Chromatics' Dear Tommy. 

Feb. 12, 2015: Chromatics release "Just Like You," the first single from Dear Tommy. Valentine's Day comes and goes without the album, but throughout the year, the band shares more proposed Tommy cuts: "Shadow," "In Films" and "I Can Never Be Myself When You're Around," as well as a series of covers of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." Jewel also helms the score for his buddy Ryan Gosling's directorial debut, Lost River, records a song with Chloë Sevigny and does some soundtrack work.

Dec. 25, 2015: Jewel has a near-death experience in Hawaii. When he returns to Los Angeles, he begins 2016 by destroying 15,000 CDs and 10,000 vinyl copies of Dear Tommy. It's not all destruction, however. He then releases two solo EPs—The Key and The Hacker—on a single day in March. In May, Chromatics release their Just Like You and Shadow EPs on the same day. Both EPs feature songs slated for inclusion on Dear Tommy, a development as confounding as it is exciting. Jewel also creates the score for the Belgian film Home and finds time to curate Music to Drive, a compilation tribute to Drive, the film he never got to score, on its fifth anniversary. In total, Jewel releases more than a half-dozen projects in 2016. None of them is Tommy.

March 7, 2017: Images of broken Dear Tommy vinyl appear in a promo photo for the Twin Peaks reboot. In the same month, all Tommy tracks are wiped from the internet, allegedly because the record's release is imminent.

May 21, 2017: In the premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return, Chromatics make a cameo in David Lynch and Mark Frost's eerie Pacific Northwest multiverse. The band performs "Shadow" and "Saturday" on the show, and plays live at the Twin Peaks premiere party in L.A. Jewel records over 20 hours of music for the show, some of which appears on his solo LP Windswept, released later in the month. Then, during the penultimate episode that airs Sept. 3 of the same year, the band backs Julee Cruise on her performance of "As the World Spins."

Jan. 26, 2018: Jewel begins a preposterously prolific year by releasing Digital Rain, an atmospheric record inspired by his nostalgic yearning for the rainier climate of his past while living in L.A. The album features "City of Roses," an ode to Portland inspired by the "constant kiss of drizzle on the streets of Portland, and the morning rain against the windshield of TriMet city bus No. 15 that I would ride home after recording all night."

May 25, 2018: Jewel releases Themes for Television, an album consisting of unused music recorded for Twin Peaks. Jewel says the ominous record of instrumentals is "a sonic exploration of the sounds I was hearing in my nightmares," making it abundantly clear why he and Lynch became such fast friends.

June 5, 2018: Chromatics release a vinyl-only EP, Camera, that includes a version of the song "Dear Tommy," and promise Dear Tommy the album will finally be out in the fall. Dear Tommy does not come out in the fall. Instead, throughout the year, Jewel remixes Zola Jesus' "Wise Blood" and "Ash and Bone," as well as the Ariel Pink and SSION collab "At Least the Sky Is Blue" with much aplomb. He also manages to release Vapor, a 21-track collection of moody instrumentals. Another year, another six-plus projects, still zero Tommys.

Feb. 2, 2019: Jewel's score for Don't Come Back From the Moon drops. A few weeks later, Chromatics release "Time Rider" and announce their first tour in five years, one that will feature audiovisual "experiences," including short films directed by Jewel and mixed live by video artist Danny Perez. This bit of extremely exciting news disappointingly—but perhaps predictably—features no mention of Dear Tommy. In advance of Chromatics' Portland shows, however, Jewel's reps assure WW that the record will be out "soon."

SEE IT: Chromatics play Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St.,, with Desire and In Mirrors, on Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9. 8 pm. $30.50 advance, $33 day of show; Saturday show sold out. All ages.