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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ladytron: "Velocifero"

From their earliest moments, Ladytron was always a band that was so far left of the norm that any mainstream success seemed like a far-fetched fantasy.  With thick synths, harsh vocals, and nothing that sounded even remotely ordinary, they eventually gained some sort of widespread recognition with cult hits like "Seventeen" and "Destroy Everything You Touch."  Their most recent album, Witching Hour (2005), was a giant leap forward for both the band, and their unique style of electronic pop.  Velocifero continues this trend with songs that are much easier to swallow without completely disowning their signature sound.  Simply put, Velocifero is easily the most accomplished Ladytron album to date.

The album begins with could generally be considered the antithesis of my above statement.  "Black Car," a song whose vocals are spoken in Bulgarian, doesn't immediately sound like the most listener-friendly of songs.  But this bizarre opener is completely infecting with its compelling drum beat and layers of bell synths.  While the lyrics are really the only thing worth complaining about, one can't really fault the group's artistic vision, as the song is still quite enthralling.  On the other hand, "Ghosts," was seemingly hand-crafted to be Velocifero's first single.  Like "Destroy Everything You Touch" before it, the song has an abnormally catchy vocal melody and anthemic instrumentation.  Even in my first listen, I found myself humming along to the chorus of, "There's a ghost in me/ who wants to say "I'm Sorry."/ Doesn't mean I'm sorry."  By my second listen, I was singing along with them.
The upbeat and driving, "I'm Not Scared" is perhaps the most appropriate song on the album, considering that "Velocifero" translates to "bringer of speed."  It may also be the loudest song, though I don't really know what word translates to "bringer of bleeding ears."  Were I a betting man, I would have no issues with betting on "Runaway" being the album's second single.  The instrumentation here is a bit more thinned out than on the song it follows, and the song's topic is just begging it to be the next theme song for every rebellious teen on the planet.  That's not to discredit it, however, as "Runaway" is easily one of the band's strongest songs to date, despite the fact that "my little runaway" is repeated endlessly towards the song's end.  "Season of Illusions" and "Burning Up" don't really have much to offer and really drag the album's momentum down (which apparently is possible).  The latter really has a classic Ladytron sound to it, so the more loyal fan my find it enjoyable.  I, however, do not.

"Kletva" again brings back the Bulgarian language, though this time it is sung rather than spoken.  Like its contemporary, the song is really very intriguing.  For most of the song's first two minutes, the band uses a  very eclectic mix of synth sounds, and the result is unlike anything I've heard from them before.  It is very, very cool.  'They Gave You a Heart, They Gave You a Name" is another candidate for second single, with a very clear and pretty vocal melody.  Its got a noticeable groove to it, and Helen's vocals are really in top form as she sings "They gave you a heart/ they gave you a name/ released to the wild/ with no one to tame."  "Predict the Day" takes an alternate approach, using much harsher drums and synth sounds, but doing so in an enjoyable manner.  Unfortunately, the vocals on the song are kind of weak, and I've found myself just longing for an instrumental version of the song.  The instrumentation on this one is undoubtedly Velocifero's best.

"The Lovers" clocks in as Velocifero's shortest track, but still manages to be a favorite of mine.  The song sounds like a Death Cab for Cutie song with all instrumentation replaced by crazy electronic instruments.  The anthemic declaration of "We are the lovers," just sounds like it was ripped from a Ben Gibbard songbook.  "Deep Blue," meanwhile, sounds more like a throwback to classic New Wave sounds, albeit with a Ladytron twist.  Here, Mira sings, "Deep blue, I want to give it all to you/ Deep blue, I know that scares you," over some truly great instrumentation that even includes a violin (a real one!).  The band ends the album on a high note, with "Versus," an unbelievably cool sounding song.  The addition of an acoustic guitar, trumpet, and whistle give it a very distinctive spaghetti-western vibe.  It seems completely out of character for a band like Ladytron, and perhaps that's why I simply can't get enough of it.  

As with any Ladytron album, I am going to have some complaints.  The big one, of course, is the fact that the vocals never blend well with the music.  When you have so many layers of instrumentation going on, this is bound to happen - as it has on almost every Ladytron song so far.  It is no fault of their own,  just an unfortunate byproduct of the type of music that they so masterfully create.  Any fan of the band will expect this, however, so as long as you know what you're getting into, this shouldn't be a problem.  I also feel that the album could be about 2-3 songs too long, and could have used some trimming.  Of course, these are only small, insignificant asides to what is an otherwise highly enjoyable listening experience.  Velocifero is definitely my favorite album that Ladytron has crafted thus far, filled with so many unique styles and sounds that it can only be described as "stunning."  With each album that the band puts out, they slowly inch towards mainstream acceptance.  Velocifero may not be the one that does it completely, but it will certainly recruit more unsuspecting listeners to their unique, enchanting style.  Perhaps that is good enough.

Key Tracks:
1. "Ghosts"
2. "Runaway"
3. "Kletva"
4. "They Gave You a Heart, They Gave You a Name"
5. "Versus"

7 out of 10 Stars
Note:  Velocifero is available exclusively on iTunes through June 3, 2008.

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