Ladytron – Light & Magic review

Released 17.09.02

If making music is about programming, attack and decay, listening to it is we hope about both the destitute act of its consumption and the intangible sense of belonging, of worship and denigration which can only be found when down the blackest trip of unrequited, deadeye, starfucking love.

Ladytron’s second album, Light and Magic found itself caught in the always poisonous crossfire between questionably modish adulation and critical kudos to go, with sales figures to match its cult status. Plagued by accusations of representing a triumph of substance over form, the Liverpudlian boy-girl-boy-girls were quick to disavow any notion of scenester affectation; speaking before Light and Magic’s release, quarter ‘Tron Danny Hunt claimed that despite the calculated androgyny of their presentation the band had consciously “Avoided things that could’ve typed us”.

As if to prove it they left the comforts of northern Britain’s drab uniformity and headed for the distinctly un-subterranean surroundings of LA to record, Hunt claiming defiantly that against the palm lined streets, smog and neon sprawl their songs sounded “Completely different”.

The evidence may suggest that any Angelino resemblance is purely unintentional, but whilst the minimalist retro synth design spins around the inevitable Hutter-Bartos-Schneider axis the template for much of what is interesting in current dance music is arguably laid out amongst its simple, ritualistic analogue synthesis.

Hunt was half right; opener True Mathematics dispassionately swum against the then tide of euphoric vacuous trance, refusing to pointlessly crescendo, sounding in its one hundred and fourty nihilistic seconds like a Moog-toting Pierrot doll about to fall headfirst into a K hole.

Clearly however he also recognised that 55 minutes of sound tracking a dominatrix attaching clothes pegs to a high court judges’ scrotum has limited appeal, but whilst Deckard may have struggled to decide whether to retire twin vocalists Helen Marnie and Mila Acoyo as skin jobs, Hunt’s 50% of wrong is in suggesting that Light and Magic’s coda changes hue as it travels. This is because at its root it’s both unquestionably pop and unambiguously British. Unquestionably pop because in tracks like Seventeen and Flicking Your Switch they demonstrate both the humanity and warmth which when missing render such inorganic source material into pastiche, buttressed with future-childlike nursery melodies to hum inanely to; unambiguously British because with Blue Jeans especially but not in isolation they mine a deep vein of missing-the-sixties kitchen sink melancholia; far out.

Occasionally the delicate balance between irony and archive subterfuge blurs with unlistenable consequences – Nuhorizons resembling an ugly approximation of eastern European techno fascism, like The Hacker sound tracking Hostel II – but Light and Magic was unquestionably in retrograde motion to both fashionista metrics and musical culture, anti-glam and about self, not group, order not chaos. This music comes naked, not wrapped in trinkets, but alive to be eaten, not suffocated in the killing jar.