This is our sound…
The news of a new Ladytron album on the horizon back in 2018 led to the perking up of ears across the electronic music community. There had been times when it seemed as if the band were done, particularly since Helen Marnie had branched out on a solo career, which included 2017’s Strange Words And Weird Wars.
But each of the four members of the band had been occupied in the years since the release of Ladytron’s last album (2011’s Gravity The Seducer – see TEC review previously). For Danny Hunt that meant busying himself on production duties, which included both of the Marnie solo albums and also co-producing Lush’s 2016 EP Blind Spot (see review on our sister website Wavegirl here). Mira Aroyo had a baby while also making documentaries (and collaborating on The Projects’ last release). Reuben Wu, meanwhile, had focussed his time on his stunning photography.
While the band had kept a low profile in the years since Gravity The Seducer, it didn’t mean that new Ladytron material had been off the menu during that period. Talk of a new album was rumoured as far back as 2013, although plans didn’t really work out. In fact the new eponymously titled album Ladytron was originally scheduled to appear in October 2018, but was held back for the new year.
“We had time to think about if we are going to do another Ladytron record, how do we go about it?” Commented Danny Hunt in a recent interview for Bido Lito, “We didn’t just think about chronology, like when we did on the first five albums, this time we wanted to move things on and approach it in a different way. It’s a Ladytron record in its purest form and there’s the addition of everything we’ve learned since we got together.”
The new album was also funded via PledgeMusic, the crowd funding initiative that had previously delivered albums for the likes of OMD and Gary Numan. The new campaign offered up a wealth of rewards for pledgers, including signed copies of the new album, handwritten lyric sheets, a History of Ladytron photo book and even a KORG MS2000B previously used by the band on earlier albums.
Ladytron’s option to use PledgeMusic has unfortunately arrived during a bad time for the organisation. Battling criticisms for late delivery of successful campaigns and their funds (something Empathy Test suffered from), Ladytron were thrust into the debate regarding the shipping of some of the campaign items.
All of this might appear to put a dent in the new album’s fortunes, but luckily the strength of the material on the album is likely to win this particular PR battle. “It’s diverse and emotional,” Hunt commented on the new release, “It’s a lot heavier than Gravity, which was an intentionally more sedate, ethereal record. The atmospheres are there, but there’s more urgency underneath.”
There’s a lot of innovation and ideas at work on this album, which shows a natural evolution from Gravity The Seducer but which also combines the shared talents of four people who have been working together for two decades.
Album opener ‘Until the Fire’ has elements of the baroque styles that Ladytron had begun to fashion on their post-Light & Magic output. Introducing organic percussion elements (care of Iggor Cavalera) also help give the compositions on Ladytron a more earthy quality.
The breezy melodies of ‘The Island’, which originally gave listeners the first glimpse of the album in August 2018, has a subtler summery mood indicative of Marnie’s last solo outing. Prominent percussive elements give the song a muscular quality while Helen Marnie’s vocal has a mesmerising draw.
There’s a more strident approach on the excellent ‘Tower Of Glass’ on which a chugging percussion does battle with shimmering synths. Meanwhile, the clipped vocal melodies lend the whole composition a particular charm.
Equally, the excellent ‘Far From Home’ puts some classic Ladytron squelchy synth sounds front and centre. The relentless percussion drives along a busy composition with some enthralling vocals.
Where the album offers up surprises is ‘Paper Highways’. Opening with some of the flat vocal approach that served early Ladytron outings so well, it then changes gear with an harmonic vocal melody that brings to mind the euphoric outings of Greek outfit Marsheaux. Throughout, there are some inspired machine-like electronics which gives the whole affair a fractured, spiky appeal.
‘The Animals’ is another winner with tight melodies and Marnie’s vocals taking on an ethereal quality. Elsewhere, the brooding and glitchy delights of ‘Run’ present a surprisingly mesmerising mid-tempo composition. There’s a sinister aspect to the song revealed through its epic synths and menacing lyrical content (“Stop looking at me with a gun in your hand”).
“Personally, I’m really happy with the album” suggests Helen Marnie, “It’s different to our previous efforts, but I think it needed to be. We needed to come back as a new, refreshed Ladytron and that is definitely expressed through this record.”
There has to be an element of nervous expectation with a band that have been inactive for so long however. Certainly, on their brief live outings last year (see our review of the London show), they kept the setlist free from any surprise Ladytron tracks outside of the previously released material.
It’s always a difficult position to be in regardless. Having the weight of expectation to deliver an album that’s indicative of classic material, while also wanting to evolve that sound.
On the whole, Ladytron doesn’t disappoint. Take for example the whispery sepulchral quality to ‘Deadzone’, a slice of synth noir whose twilight melodies are echoed with the other-worldly vocal delivery.
The bass-pounding delights of ‘You’ve Changed’ are another of the album’s highlights. There’s a primitive electronic feel to the song’s foundations with some choice use of choral vocal effects.
‘Figurine’ offers up buzzy electropop goodness while there’s lighter touch to ‘The Mountain’ with an airy electronic approach.
Closing track ‘Tomorrow Is Another Day’ is a moody organ-led reverie which serves as a nice bookend to the album.
Ladytron serves as a testament to the electropop outfit’s willingness to embrace change, while still staying faithful to their electronic roots. As an album, it presents a strong collection of songs that will likely mark it out as one of 2019’s finest.
Ladytron is out 15th February 2019 on !K7.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.