Review Summary: "Witching Hour" is plainly the best pop album of the past ten years. Melding dark pop and electronica together perfectly with Helena Marnie's stunning and hypnotic vocals, this album is a must-have by any fan of music.
Witching Hour is stunning.
That's the only way I can initially describe the third effort from electronica/pop/indie artist Ladytron. Known for fun singles and lackluster albums prior to this, Witching Hour
is the fruition of all of the talent they posses; a beautiful, emotional, focused, and haunting pop record which has easily eclipsed anything their contemporaries have produced.
Ladytron aren't so much an electronica act as they are a pop act who happens to use synths and samples to great effect. Previously, Ladytron had relied on strong beats to keep their songs afloat, and over the course of an album they would begin to fumble under the weight of themselves. Here, Ladytron instead focuses on vivid soundscapes, often with a keyboard-driven rhythm that accentuates the ever-changing palette of sound.
At times, Ladytron sound like an electronic rock band. "Weekend" is a driving and aggressive tune that uses a drum sample so seamless, it sounds live. "Sugar," the second single from the album, features a fuzzy guitar assault with siren-esque synths on top of more excellently placed drum beats, which give the songs a feeling closer to a good Sleater-Kinney song than something by Peaches.
High energy rock songs may work very well for Ladytron, but its the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality for this album. It's when they go into the dark recesses of pop that they are at their enjoyable peak. "Destroy Everything You Touch" is the best song Ladytron have yet created; it's beautiful, dark yet vibrant, and filled with memorable synth lines that leave you wanting more. "Beauty*2" is similar in a completely different vein; haunting and dazzling, it depends on a light piano melody and a strong vocal performance. Like most of what Ladytron does, it's difficult to describe in words, but it goes from an anguished lament to a jaded mourning over a failed relationship. Its striking and incredibly memorable, beyond the traditional pop sense.
Then again, there are still the power-pop songs ready to be mass sold to the populace. However, here they take on the dark tone of the album, melding previous Miss Kittin-esque material into something closer to a song from Shock Treatment
. "International Dateline" contains a strange morphed guitar riff and bass synth that interplay throughout the song, giving the catchy vocals and underlying tone of gloom not found elsewhere in pop music. Then there’s the chant-y greatness of "Last One Standing," and the closest thing to a europop-hook Ladytron has on this album. While the chimes and fuzz in the song are quite a neat combination, it's the repeated line of "You have got to be the last one standing" from main vocalist Helena Marnie that gives the song its appeal.
While the musical landscapes Ladytron create throughout the album may be stunning and worthwhile within themselves, it's Marnie that gives Ladytron the push into greatness. Far from the somewhat dippy and frankly dumb singers of most other electroclash artists Ladytron gets compared to, Marnie is a stunningly unique and hypnotizing vocalist. Somewhat comparable to Kelli Dayton of Sneaker Pimps
fame (but not really), Marnie is at once entrancing, emotional and honest.
On the album, she ranges from dreampop-esque vocals on "Beauty*2" to the satirical stylings of "AMTV." As with most of Ladytron, its difficult to describe what she truly does, it has to be heard to be understood. She guides the music, giving it the final punch, and completes the circle of gloomy-yet-irresistible facets of Witching Hour
. As the album progresses, she slowly becomes more dreamy and less-real, but at the same time retains the same emotional impact as she does on "Destroy Everything You Touch", where she gives the vocal performance of a career.
The lyrical matter has also devolved from prepubescent flailings at love and metaphorical forays into insulting the culture of electroclash to a more overarching concept. The album is mainly to do about lost things (use your imagination), and the emotional pain in everyday life. Previously, Marnie would use intricate metaphors to attempt to get her point across, which would often end up being trips in self indulgence rather than anything worthwhile. She now instead opts for simplicity, relying on more direct imagery and story telling lyrics to direct her message that while obviously geared towards the female audience, is relatable to all walks of life.
is a huge step forward for the band. They have effectively let go of all their previous ties to any specific genre, and instead expanded into something all of their own. They are a universally enjoyable band at this poinr; people who hate pop but love electronica will find more than enough to enjoy about Ladytron, and vice versa. Their unique meld of a multitude of genres makes them the forbearers of the term "electroclash," and if only some of the other second-rate acts associated with that scene would follow in Ladytron's footsteps, maybe we'd get more decent house music instead of tripe like Freezepop or Console. From the synth-pop of "High Rise" and "Destroy Everything You Touch" to the shoegaze of "White Light Generation" and "All the Way," Witching Hour
is an enthralling and flawless masterpiece of contemporary pop; gloomy enough for those looking for a deep and broody electronica album, but light hearted and catchy enough for those hoping for a danecable techno album.