Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gravity The Seducer - Ladytron

Gravity The Seducer
Nettwerk  0 6700 30924

Ladytron's show last year at the Wiltern was one of my favorite shows ever.  I took my wife who knew nothing about them and when she saw that there were four synthesizers set up on stage she groaned.  I could sympathize with that, I'm much more of a guitar guy myself, but I've loved this band ever since I first heard "Playgirl" on the radio about ten years ago.   Anyway the band completely won over my wife with their dynamic performance and I was putty in their hands.  It was evident that the band was embracing a new direction when Helen Marnie strutted out on stage in a vintage style elegant dress with an enormous bow in her hair.  She looked like a pop chanteuse from the 1940s, quite a change from the severe quasi-militaristic look the band favored in their earlier performances.  This shift in direction is also evident in this, the band's fifth studio album.  The first two Ladytron albums were classic synth-pop, a genre I'm not a big fan of, but I was drawn to them by their flair for catchy melodies and by the allure of Helen Marnie's singing.  She delivered the songs' dark lyrics with a breathy girlish voice that had all the warmth and empathy of a cyborg.  With their next albums "Witching Hour" and "Velocifero" the group embraced rock.  The music was harder and used real guitars and drums to bolster their sound without abandoning their synth-pop foundation.  The result was two astonishingly powerful albums that mixed the sonic complexity of shoegazer bands with the pop sensibilities of Brit Pop, a dazzling combination that I found irresistible.  These were two of my favorite albums of the last decade.  I had no idea how the band could follow up such perfect albums, but to their credit they pursued a new direction and delivered their most romantic and melodic album to date.  Their four previous albums featured a bleak, almost nihilistic vision of human relations emphasized by an icy detachment in their presentation.  In contrast this album is warm and seductive, it celebrates beauty and love.  This is evident in the lead track "White Elephant," when Marnie sweetly invites the listener to "surrender with me" I reach for my white flag.  With it's multiple layers of synthesizers, it's hypnotic riff and Marnie's soothing voice, the song envelops the listener with beauty and transports me to a state of pop bliss.  "Mirage" evokes the dysfunctional relationships that characterized earlier Ladytron records but the tone is less acerbic, the song is sad rather than cutting.  It also has a compelling riff coupled with a propulsive beat and the music oozes sensual beauty.  Marnie's heartfelt vocal cuts right through me.  "White Gold" rejects materialism.  It is a slow, atmospheric song that shimmers with sound and boasts one of Marnie's best vocals ever.  Despite its cold lyrics, it is a very sensuous song.  "Ace of Hz" pre-dates the album having been released as a single in 2010 and its lyrics are a throwback to the band's past as the song dissects a serial heart-breaker.  It displays Ladytron's skill at creating catchy, hook-laden songs and bolstering their impact with layers of sound.  It is my favorite song on the record.  "Ritual" is an instrumental, the best of the three on the album.  It has a simple riff driven by a strong beat upon which the band gradually adds layer upon layer of instrumental flourishes so that the song continually builds in strength.  I'm not much of a dancer, but when I hear it I want to hit the dance floor.  Mira Aroyo takes the mike for "Moon Palace" which is an enticing and dreamy song about desire.  Aroyo's heavily accented English enhances the exotic atmosphere produced by the song.  Side one of this album is flawless, easily as good as anything this band has ever recorded.  Side Two isn't as strong unfortunately.  It opens with "Altitude Blues" which is an enigmatic song that I think is about escape.  Mira Aroyo is again on lead vocal and apparently she didn't get the memo about the new warmer Ladytron because she intones the lyrics with all the warmth of a Bulgarian Commissar reciting agriculture statistics.  Aroyo provides the blues but the rest of the band delivers the altitude with some more soaring sonic splendor. "Ambulances" deals with the travails of love and breaking up.  Marnie's vocal is remarkably girlish, she reminds me a bit of Elizabeth Fraser on this song.  "Melting Ice" has a similar theme to "Ambulances" exploring issues of trust and the weight of past relationships casting shadows over current ones.  I'm really impressed by the colorful imagery of the song, particularly the metaphoric use of ice.  It has a highly propulsive melody and a dramatic instrumental sound, it would make a nice theme for a James Bond movie.  I think it is one of their best songs ever and it is my other favorite song from this album.  "Transparent Days" is an instrumental.  I find it a little dull but the synthesized wall of sound it generates has some appeal for me.  "Ninety Degrees" returns to the prevalent theme on the album of using the natural elements to describe human relations and its lyrics provide the album's mysterious title.  It is a slow song with a splendid Marnie vocal and a gorgeous densely layered instrumental backdrop that I find mesmerizing.  The album concludes with another instrumental, "Aces High" which is a reprise of "Ace of Hz."  It is superfluous but it doesn't bother me since I love "Ace of Hz" so much, I'm happy to have one more taste of it at the end.  This was one of my favorite albums of 2011 and I'm impressed that Ladytron continues to explore new approaches to synth-pop.  This high quality album comes in a very handsome record package with stunning graphics within and without (my cover photos don't do it justice.)  It is pressed on clear vinyl and it sounds great.  Recommended for fans of the Cocteau Twins.                  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the writeup -- I'd heard of them, but never really checked them out. Listening now, though, and I like what I'm hearing. I have to admit I hear a little ABBA in there, but seeing as I was once a big ABBA fan, that's not such a bad thing...