Force of nature versus rage, nature versus odd or strange...
After a 3 year gap punctuated with Extended Play, tour dates, and singles from the last album, Ladytron is back on the pulse of electronic music with their newest album, Velocifero, which means "bringer of speed" according to Reuben Wu. It continues down the more mainstream path started by Witching Hour, but at the end of the day you're still not likely to lose any indie cred at a mention of Ladytron.
Ladytron's ex-record label Island Records pushed too hard for Extended Play and made other decisions that supposedly upset the band enough that Velocifero was produced entirely under Nettwerk. The production or quality hasn't suffered one bit, and hopefully the change of record labels will allow for even better tours than Witching Hour's.
- Black Cat (5:09)
This track was the first to be released to the public on Ladytron's website, so it's only fitting that the best way to appreciate this song is with great patience. There's no way around it: the intro takes forever. Mira begins chanting in Bulgarian over 2 minutes into the song, backed up by Helen. Her voice is hypnotic and transforms the song from a well-produced but ultimately boring collection of beats into a multi-layered hypnotic wonderland.
- Ghosts (4:43)
The first single from this album, Ghosts lacks the break-through appeal of Destroy Everything You Touch; it carries itself on its own merits. Helen's delivery is (a shocking first!) decidedly emotional and has depth far beyond Electroclash monotone, even if the actual range is narrow. No, this track is a message that Ladytron have moved on from Witching Hour, and Velocifero is its own work.
- I'm Not Scared (3:58)
This track opens with a sweeping repetitive progression and swiftly segues into vocals that fit into the music perfectly. Its atmosphere is reproachful and urgent, with repeated admonishments of "We're not scared" peaking from the sinister keyboards that could be channelling Winter itself.
- Runaway (4:50)
I expect a slow track after the driving intensity of the last two tracks, but Ladytron comes back with more aggressive synth lines and more distinctive vocals (still from Helen). This song reminds me of International Dateline with the persistence of Seventeen.
- Season Of Illusions (4:02)
Finally a decidedly 'darker' song, replete with Mira voice (which may have also found emotion!), I find the key change around 2:30 in my head at the strangest times; after that point the song speeds up and rushes onward for another minute and a half.
- Burning Up (4:08)
There's no official word yet, but this song has nowhere to go but in the record store as the second single from Velocifero. It may just be my musically deficient brain getting mixed up, but I detect echoes of all of the finest 80s synthpop moments in the music. A strong performance by Mira and Helen combine to make this song stand out and, well, it will be stuck in your head and there will be a permanent nag at the back of your head of "What song, exactly, is that riff from?" and YOU WILL NEVER FIND OUT.
- Kletva (2:43)
Mira switches to Bulgarian for a strange kind of infectious, poppy anthem here-- ironic considering the title, Клетва, translates directly to curse. Other than that, the song is a charming excursion into a mysterious language for the majority of us who don't understand Bulgarian; it's easier to focus on Mira's singing as an instrument in harmony with the music instead of thinking about the lyrics. It's worth mentioning that Kletva is a cover.
- They Gave You A Heart, They Gave You A Name (3:29)
Despite having a completely different kind of sound, the structure in this song is similar to AMTV or Playgirl, and it's hard to not make comparisons between them. Playgirl has fewer layers and instruments; AMTV is urgent and mechanical, while this song is ineffably more charming.
- Predict The Day (4:25)
Here is another slower song with harsher notes; Helen returns to a more monotone delivery and lets the guitar solo in the second half convey the emotion. I don't think I would miss this song if it was not on the album; it's just not very interesting.
- The Lovers (2:39)
After 7 tracks that start nearly instantly, another song with a (decently sized) intro! This short song is a welcome interlude that puts energy! into! my! body! It's interesting to note that Helen is singing notes she doesn't normally go into...
- Deep Blue (5:03)
...just like Mira goes outside of her normal range of, er, singing for Deep Blue. Her singing once again is in harmony with the music, and the whole sensation is strangely calming and makes for inoffensive background music. I feel like there should be more to the song, but it frankly falls flat to me.
- Tomorrow (3:36)
The slightest of intro sustains bursts forth into this upbeat song that feels more like a breath of fresh air or a ray of sunlight streaming through storm clouds. It's poppy and airy, but it feels more like an extra track compared to the next.
- Versus (5:44)
This last song is one I've had in my head for days now; it's a new take on songwriting for Ladytron, with acoustic guitar in the background and Helen and Daniel singing prominently-- a first, and he does it very well. Versus doesn't suffer from any possible repetitive tedium either, as everything is well timed and the entire song feels fresh. And thus Velocifero ends on a high note, and hopefully a single.
I've always pictured Ladytron as one of those bands that make the sounds of one season; their music has always had a distinctly winter feeling to it. Velocifero doesn't change that, but it opens up their sound and broadens their appeal. If anything, Ladytron were too conservative with this album; their strongest songs are the ones that don't evoke memories of their previous singles, and there are only so many ways to make repetition a la Seventeen work without driving people insane. On the whole, Velocifero isn't as big of a shift as Witching Hour was, but it's an excellent evolution of that sound— I'm eagerly waiting for their next album.