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Ladytron - Topic

Extended Play Play

Ladytron's straightforwardly named Extended Play collects remixes and B-sides from the band's Witching Hour singles into an EP of their own. For the most part, the EP plays exactly like what it is -- tracks used to support Ladytron's "A" material. The remixes are nice but nothing extraordinary: "High Rise (Club Mix)" strips Witching Hour's opening track down to its backing vocals and towering synth bassline, with a few hard-edged beats and guitars; "Sugar (Jagz Kooner Mix)"'s siren-like analog synths and tight, tinny rhythm suggest what the song would've sounded like had it been on one of Ladytron's more retro-futuristic albums like 604. However, James Iha's reworking of "Weekend" is one of Extended Play's highlights, with hand drums, percussion, and shimmering yet sharp guitars giving it an exotic feel. Likewise, Shipps & Tait's take on "Last One Standing" has an intricate yet understated arrangement that makes it arguably more haunting than the original. The other B-sides collected here are similarly just okay: "Nothing to Hide" is a track sung by Mira Aroyo that sounds like a less-developed version of her songs that actually ended up on Witching Hour, while the instrumentals "Citadel" and "Tender Talons" have a slightly kitsch playfulness that also recalls Ladytron's earlier work; "Tender Talons" is the better of the two, with flute-like Mellotrons that emphasize its delicately menacing vibe. Extended Play is enjoyable enough, but it's clear that Ladytron saved their best material for Witching Hour. Still, there are enough good moments here that the EP is worthwhile for fans who didn't splurge on the singles already, especially because the bonus DVD features the tundra-fabulous video for "Destroy Everything You Touch"; the trippy, big-budget clip for "Sugar"; and "Once Upon a Time in the East: Ladytron in China," a mostly-entertaining, 27-minute documentary that includes interviews, and concert and behind-the-scenes footage. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

604 Play

On their debut full-length 604, Ladytron prove how apt their name is: their sound mixes evocative vintage synths and plaintive female vocals as it references over two decades' worth of electronica, new wave, and rock (including Roxy Music, whose "Ladytron" is the group's namesake). Like the Commodore Rock EP, 604 balances Ladytron's experimental and pop sides. "Mu-Tron" and "Zmekya" reinterpret Add N to (X)'s noisy, dystopian soundscapes, and the shimmering "CSKA Sofia" sounds like Kraftwerk filtered through Broadcast. However, it's the tightly structured pop songs that set Ladytron apart. Helena Marnie is Ladytron's lovelorn heart and soul, a heartbroken disco diva singing through her tears on "Another Breakfast With You" and "Discotraxx" and a sadder but wiser confidante on "Playgirl." Meanwhile, Mira Aroya's deadpan singing and Bulgarian accent add a touch of Ninotchka-style wit and irony to "Paco!" which parodies a department store's fake cheeriness, and "I'm With the Pilots," a piece of Weimar Republic-era cabaret brought into the 21st century. Marnie and Aroya's vocals blend perfectly on songs like the brooding, witty single "He Took Her to a Movie." But Ladytron's mix of retro songwriting and modern themes is their most interesting, and distinctive, aspect. Set at the airport and the disco, "Jet Age" blends jealousy and sexual ambiguity, asking "Do you want to be her or don't you / Of course you do / But would she be you?" This subversive streak makes the album's synth-pop more progressive -- and more satisfying -- than its blatantly experimental moments, but either way, 604 is an exciting debut from a group capable of making overused influences sound fresh again. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Gravity the Seducer Play

Gravity the Seducer arrived when the frosty synth pop Ladytron had excelled at for over a decade was being popularized by the likes of Crystal Castles, Cold Cave, and Austra. Ever the contrarians, Ladytron went in a very different direction on their fifth album; though the single “Ace of Hz” hinted at a subtler, darker direction, it didn’t fully convey the extent of it: Gravity the Seducer downplays the band’s pop strengths in favor of elaborate textures and vast atmospheres (as suggested by the endless vista on the cover). “Ace of Hz”’s melody runs through the album as a motif, while there are no less than three instrumentals here, including the lovely “Transparent Days,” which sounds like Brian Eno covering “Telstar.” Opening track “White Elephant” makes it clear how committed Ladytron are to turning away from Velocifero's hard-edged electro-rock, and indeed Gravity the Seducer is more focused even if it’s not as accessible. The band throws its pop fans a few bones with the swirling “Mirage,” one of many songs here that deals with duality and deception; the paranoid, driving “Melting Ice”; and the Mira Aroyo-sung “Moon Palace,” which echoes the album’s cryptic feel with lyrics like “the serpent sea is calling out your name.” Helen Marnie makes “90 Degrees” sound downright arctic, while “White Gold” reaffirms the group can sound colder than any cold wave revivalists and the melody of “Ambulances” sounds like a pale, slow reflection of Light & Magic's “Seventeen.” Gravity the Seducer's whispers and hints have a fragile, haunting quality that reveals itself over time. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Velocifero Play

With each album, Ladytron take their sound in distinctly different directions, but the aloof, glamorous, slightly sinister and more than a little bittersweet heart of their music remains the same. The changes from 604's sweet synth pop to Light & Magic's dark electro-pop to Witching Hour's epic shoegaze didn't sound like dabbling, precisely because the band has such a strong grip on exactly what they want to express with their music. Ladytron haven't lost that grip on Velocifero; in fact, they may be holding on to it a little too strongly here. Massive and sparkling, as dark and glossy as black patent leather, the album is so sleek, so quintessentially Ladytron, that it almost feels like the band has their sound literally down to a science, fusing Light & Magic's hard-edged dance and Witching Hour's Wall of Sound into songs like "The Lovers," "Deep Blue," and "They Gave You a Name."
Velocifero does have some inspired moments, particularly at the beginning. "Ghosts" is sweetly ominous, riding a stomping shuffle beat and a careening guitar solo as Helena Marnie puts a fine point on her regrets ("There's a ghost in me/who wants to say I'm sorry/Doesn't mean I'm sorry"). "Runaway"'s punchy, cavernous sound recalls the heyday of industrial dance, which may not be such a surprise, considering that former Nine Inch Nails contributor Alessandro Cortini (also of Modwheelmood) worked on Velocifero, along with Ed Banger's Vicarious Bliss. As always, Mira Aroya acts as the acerbic yang to Marnie's ethereal yin, and she's in fine form here, particularly on "Black Cat," which opens Velocifero with a darkly hypnotic groove and a canyon-deep bassline, and on the quirky "Kletva," a cover of a song from a Bulgarian children's movie that brings back some of the playfulness Ladytron largely abandoned after 604. However, as Velocifero unfolds, the songs aren't quite as memorable as they've been on previous albums, and a few ("Burning Up," "Tomorrow") are downright dull and repetitive. The taut, tribal "Predict the Day" and "Versus," a symphonic synth pop duet, close the album on a strong note, and there are more than enough bright spots for fans to enjoy, Overall, though, Velocifero isn't as dramatic a step forward as Ladytron's other albums. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Witching Hour Play

Despite a three-year wait, Ladytron sounds fresher and more vital than ever on their triumphant third album, Witching Hour. While the label problems that sidelined the album's release must have been frustrating, in some ways the delay works in the band's favor: though they were momentarily (and somewhat opportunistically) lumped in with the electroclash movement, Ladytron always had a stronger sense of melody and pop songcraft than most of the other artists associated with that style, and with electroclash all but dead, the band's identity comes through even more clearly. Much darker and less overtly synth pop than any of their earlier work, Witching Hour is almost unrelentingly gloomy, covering topics like the fleeting nature of relationships, destruction, and war. However, the album wears it well, conjuring a glamorous dystopia with songs like "High Rise" and "Soft Power" -- it's not often that bleakness sounds this pretty. It also helps that Witching Hour boasts some of Ladytron's finest songwriting to date, including the brilliantly melodramatic, ever-so-slightly gothy "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "International Dateline," which shows the band hasn't lost its touch when it comes to writing affecting breakup songs. By stripping away some of the synth pop veneer of 604 and Light & Magic, the shoegaze/dream pop influences that bubbled underneath the surface of Ladytron's music come to the fore on this album. My Bloody Valentine's brilliant "Soon" was the first track of the band's Softcore Jukebox mix album, and that song's fusion of guitar haze and dance beats forms a large part of this album's musical DNA. "Sugar"'s trippy blur of buzzsaw guitars and mechanical rhythms take this sound in a noisy, poppy direction, while "WhiteLightGenerator" and the wintry "All the Way" end Witching Hour with a trancelike serenity. While the album loses some of the impressive focus of its first half as it unfurls, the layered, intricate production on tracks like "Beauty*2" and "CMYK" -- one of Ladytron's best instrumental interludes -- remains interesting. While Helena Marnie's ghostly vocals are as lovely and effective as ever, Mira Aroyo's small presence on Witching Hour is one of the album's few disappointments, although she shines on "Fighting in Built Up Areas." Nitpicking aside, Witching Hour is the album that Ladytron always seemed capable of, and its dark, dreamy-yet-catchy spell makes it the band's most sophisticated, and best, work to date. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Light & Magic Play

On Light & Magic, the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 604, Ladytron do indeed bring on the special effects, adding denser arrangements, more complex melodies, and processed vocals to their brand of spooky, stylish synth pop. Like Chicks on Speed and Adult., Ladytron helped shape the sound of electroclash before the style even had a name, and, in turn, this album feels influenced by the music that followed once the style formalized. Tracks such as "Turn It On," "Fire," and "Evil" are colder, more detached and dance-oriented than the rather naïve, bittersweet sound of 604, and feature digital-sounding synths instead of the analog warmth of Ladytron's previous work. While much of 604's charm came from the way it sounded like Ladytron just unearthed their gear from attics, dumpsters, and flea markets, most of Light & Magic -- from the "Warm Leatherette"-esque "True Mathematics" to the icy, vaguely dissonant "Cracked LCD" -- borrows from the early-'80s' sharp-edged sounds. Though this approach takes some getting used to, after awhile the album reveals itself as an accomplished and worthy set of songs. Even more so than on 604, Light & Magic makes the most of Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo's contrasting vocal styles; spare, Aroyo-sung numbers such as "Nuhorizons" are pitted against lush, poppy songs like Marnie's "Blue Jeans," which, with its warm, buzzing synths and '60s-inspired melody, is the album's most quintessentially Ladytron moment. Though Light & Magic's intricate, often fascinating sound takes center stage, the album does offer more than a few memorable songs, most notably the creepy-sexy "Seventeen"; the paranoia-by-the-numbers of "Flicking Your Switch"; "Re:Agents," a hypnotic mix of Eastern melodies and Joe Meek-like sci-fi sounds; and "Cease2xist," which features the line "Do you cease to exist when you stop being missed?" While the processed vocals used on most of the songs add another interesting textural element, they do tend to obscure the group's clever and usually worth-hearing lyrics. Like 604, Light & Magic might be slightly too long for its own good at just under an hour long, though there aren't any obvious moments that should be removed. On the whole, Light & Magic is a logical, elegant progression for Ladytron, balancing their pop and experimental instincts even more ably than their debut. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi

Best of 00-10 Play

During the 2000s, Ladytron carved out an intriguing niche for themselves in the electro-pop world, forging innocent indie pop melodies with electronics that were by turns nostalgic and menacingly futuristic. This straightforwardly named set presents nearly every standout moment from the band’s albums in a thoughtful mix that lets each album’s sound come through while also contributing to the overall flow. Because Ladytron’s approach is so distinctive -- due in part to the complementary styles of vocalists Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo, and also to the way the band incorporated everything from shoegaze to darkwave to chiptune into its sound -- the band’s earliest work is as fresh as its later music. 604 tracks like “Discotraxx” spotlight Marnie’s tremulous voice and insightful lyrics, while Light & Magic's “Seventeen" and “Blue Jeans” reflect Ladytron's darker, sleeker, electroclash-tinged vibe on that album. Witching Hour's “Soft Power” and “Destroy Everything You Touch” -- which may be the group’s definitive moment -- capture the collage of goth and dream pop Ladytron pursued in the mid-2000s, and Velocifero's industrial-inspired edges are defined by “Ghosts” and “Deep Blue.” A few key tracks, like Witching Hour's “Sugar” and 604's “He Took Me to a Movie,” are missing, as are some of the band’s more playful tracks like Light & Magic's “Re:Agents,” but the inclusion of the Death in June cover “Little Black Angel” and the quintessentially sleek new song “Ace of Hz” help compensate. Overall, this is a generous, beautifully packaged retrospective of one of the 2000s’ premier synth pop acts. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
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