Forget Chillwave, This Is Downright Frigid
Gravity The Seducer, Ladytron’s fifth studio album, comes on the heels of a career-spanning, Best Of compilation spanning the English synth-pop group’s decade-long career. Although they had no traditional hits (At least in the UK, “Destroy Everything You Touch” came the closest), a career strong enough to warrant such a record is an accomplishment in itself. They’ve endured the “electroclash” and “bloghouse” phases and have persevered alongside plenty of flash-in-the-pan contemporaries. With this in mind, Gravity could have been approached as more of a victory lap than anything else.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. Though not the quartet’s strongest work, the new album sounds inspired, investigative, and most importantly, confident. Gravity The Seducer finds its place as Ladytron’s most hypnotic record to date—one that has no resident bangers, yet doesn’t seem to care. Instead, it invites you to drift away in its blankets of icy synth and slabs of mechanized percussion. It’s something that every Ladytron record to date has done, yet perhaps not with such persistence. Forget chillwave, this is downright frigid.
Opener “White Elephant” sets the tone completely, offering an intricate, lockstep beat for frontwoman Helen Marnie to drape her trance-like vocals over. The harpsichord-like bit that comes in later only ups the ante, announcing yet another subtle modification to Ladytron’s sound. It sounds almost like a precursor to single “Ace of Hz,” the closest the band sails to true pop territory this time around. The track debuted on Ladytron’s Best Of, and although it could have stood alone as an insular single, it does sound at home among Gravity’s early going. Despite sounding somewhat direct compared to much of the album’s darker recesses, its echo-filled chorus and calculated rhythm fit the bill.
“Moon Palace” sounds, well, exactly like its title would suggest. Its dreary landscapes are covered by not one, but two frigid female vocalists—as usual leader Helen Marnie gives way to Mira Aroyo for most of the song. Hailing from the same school of detached female vocalists, the two don’t offer much diversification, but for adding an extra layer of frost, well, you can imagine the effect.
Content to exist within its own ice storm, Gravity is rather predictable, even for a band who’ve tried many of these same tricks before. Still, Ladytron makes a genuine effort to assure the album is challenging in a musical sense. “Ritual” and “Transparent Days” hold their own as instrumental presences, though it must have been difficult for the band to resist adding vocals to the former, which is particularly pummeling. And closer “Aces High” is a nifty little reprise of “Az of Hearts”, both wrapping up matters and lending credence to its point of reference as the album’s centerpiece.
Regardless of how long the band trudges on, 2005’s “Destroy Everything You Touch” will likely endure as Ladytron’s strongest statement. As such a convincing example of what they can do when they set their sights on the dancefloor, it’d be easy to cast them off for an effort as brooding as Gravity. But being the survivors they are, the Liverpool band once again proves there’s more to Ladytron than meets the eye.
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// Notes from the Road
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