“Señor Don Gato” is a children’s song loosely translated from the traditional Spanish song “Estaba el señor Don Gato” [yet with the melody of “Ahora Que Vamos Despacio“].
The song recounts the misadventures of Señor Don Gato, a tom-cat who receives a love letter from ‘a lady cat, who was fluffy, white, and nice and fat‘ and in [mock ?] paroxysms of joy, falls to his untimely death. The English version was published in a Grade 3 music book in 1964.
While simple in form, the song displays many of the hallmarks of classic tragedy and scene creation as outlined by Aristotle in his timeless, Poetics (c. 335 BCE).
Let me explain.
Somewhat profoundly, Aristotle, put forth the idea the play should imitate a single whole action which,
has a beginning and middle and end.
By this blinding insight, Aristotle means that the events follow each other by probability or necessity, and that the causal chain has a beginning and an end.
According to Poetics, the tragedy is devised around a knot, a central problem that the protagonist must face. In our case, the knot arrives in the form of a love letter for Don Gato prompting his heart to react with violent emotion.
Aristotle continues: the tragic play has two parts: complication and unraveling. During complication, the protagonist finds trouble as the knot is revealed or tied and these complications arise from a flaw in the protagonist character ultimately leading to his or her undoing.
In the case of Señor Don Gato, this flaw is arguably either the vulnerability of his heart to love, or the invulnerability of an alley-cat to be tied down to love. Which of these plague our protagonist is up to the audience interpretation.
Aristotle continues: in the second part, named the unraveling, the knot is resolved. To explain this, two types of scenes are of special interest: the reversal, which throws the action in a new direction, and should happen as a necessary and probable cause of what happened before, and the recognition, meaning the protagonist has an important revelation. .
You need only listen to four more verses to hear how Don Gato’s dilemma is resolved through a rather amusing reversal scene through perhaps a recognition of Don Gato’s true heart orientation.
Perhaps, the ballad of Señor Don Gato follows the pattern of a comedy, rather than a tragedy, however, we cannot discover that from Aristotle’s Poetics since the second part of his work, the part addressing comedy, was lost.
For now we will have to settle with a tragical reading of Señor Don Gato according to Aristotle.
Damien Shalley takes his civic duties very seriously; that’s why he votes multiple times during elections. He is a very responsible driver and is not currently wanted in three states, no matter what you’ve heard. He was recently amazed to learn that the TV series VEEP is not a documentary. His hobbies include involving himself in home handyman-related accidents and reblogging internet memes. He is currently working on a screenplay for an action sequel to Christ’s resurrection story called “Jesus 2: The Revenge”. So far, he has no takers.
You should find the conqueror in yourself first, and be your own hero. If you stand strong, then you will stand for a bit longer. AURORA
Bergen, Norway is the epicentre of, well – nothing at all. Dead snow and dirty ground – Norwegians have the monopoly on that. Arctic twilights – long periods of cold, semi-darkness known by locals as “freezing moons” – they have them too. “Democratic socialism” – they have that as well; Scandinavians are very big on government. Norwegians pay tax rates typical of European cradle-to-grave welfare states – up to 78 per cent. (Go democratic socialism!) They also pay €22 euro for a pint of beer at the pub, have prisons featuring taxpayer-funded public art and experience one the highest rates of suicide in the western world – approximately 12-14 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants. (In other Scandinavian countries such as Finland, the official 2014 suicide rate was 26 per 100,000 – worse than war-torn African countries like Burundi – go democratic socialism!) Simply put, the Nordic peoples are not exactly known for their light-hearted verve.
Norwegians really proved this point in the 1980’s by spawning the astounding musical phenomenon known as “Death Metal”. Now normalised into the mainstream (or semi-mainstream), this alarming music – which sounds somewhat like gurgling vomit – is as significant to their cultural life as the export of North Sea crude oil is to their economic life. This spookily malevolent musical form has actually been granted “cultural protection” status by the government. (The national murder rate increases during Norwegian “freezing moons”, but I have a secret theory that the country’s icy murderers also have death metal playing on their iPods). Regardless, the chaotic and anti-social sounds of death metal remain an internationally recognised musical motif of the country. Oh those happy-go-lucky Norwegians!
Music is subjective of course and death metal could well be described as an acquired taste – like Eddie McGuire. Yet death metal isn’t all that these lovers of fermented fish can produce. (By the way, Norwegian fermented fish is called “Rakfisk” – the fish are left in buckets with whey solution for up to a year without cooking and then canned for distribution. The heads are included. You’re welcome!) These fermented food lovers (and don’t even get me started on Scandinavian fermented sheep heads, which are a real thing) have recently sent a wondrous musical incarnation from Bergen to appreciative fans around the world. Perhaps in an attempt to counter their deathly musical predilections (and their horrifying taste in food), the Norwegians are currently exporting an angelic cascade of pop from a quirky new performer. Outrageous taxes, awful food, bone-chilling weather and the infinite smallness of life in Norway – none of it matters when you hear her charming tunes. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding (and put down your Rakfisk!) for singer-song writer AURORA.
Aurora Aksnes (she calls herself AURORA, in CAPITALS – hey, I don’t make the rules;) first came to mainstream attention in 2015, although she had been releasing music in her homeland for two years prior. She is a genuine musical artist, not a record company robot. Her career began in the most inauspicious way possible – performing in front of students at her local high school. Taken by her compositions, a fellow student asked her for an mp3 of some of her songs and uploaded it to social media. Shortly thereafter, a local record label started taking interest. Labels in other countries started noticing too. So did audiences. This natural progression to success proves that talent speaks, even in the age of Little Mix.
AURORA’s beautiful 2015 cover version of “Half the World Away” really put this pixie-ish entertainer in the picture. It sounded to me like an angel had left the celestial realm and landed in my sound system. It was quirky, but it was beautiful. There was genuine talent on display. Oasis originally brought the song to prominence, but AURORA’s version is better. (The Gallagher brothers did it well of course, just differently). AURORA reinvented the song and added a soulful depth to the track that really makes the lyrics resonate. This pleasing musical experience – at Christmas time no less, when I was already feeling sentimental – led me to start investigating the AURORA repertoire. Would I find other hidden gems? I was not disappointed. (Noel and Liam’s opinions remain indeterminate).
“Half the World Away” Digital Single Cover (2015)
Exploration revealed another two previously released AURORA singles – “Awakening” (her teenage debut) and “Under Stars”. These are from 2013 and 2014 – you can find them on Vevo. They are interesting because the essence of her talent is clearly evident, however the style and sound are not quite as evolved. “Awakening” is very languid but still obviously AURORA. “Under Stars” is very electro, lyrically vague but quite catchy – an emphatic, modern pop track.
AURORA released her first EP “Running with the Wolves” in 2015, with tracks also streaming on Spotify. Discovering it belatedly, I was immediately drawn to the track “Runaway”. Spare yet tuneful, coldly beautiful and so very Norwegian – this is classic AURORA. The song “Running with the Wolves” itself is also superb – moody and understated – with a vibe slightly reminiscent of Massive Attack. “Awakening” and “Under Stars” also appear here. AURORA toured with this release and developed a reputation as a solid live performer. The track “Runaway” became a live favourite and also reappeared later on her debut album.
AURORA performing live in an “intimate” setting.
AURORA played major music festivals in the US and Europe in 2015 and 2016, delivering her tunes (and idiosyncratic dance moves) to wider audiences. Her live performances at the South by Southwest festival in March 2016 were particularly appealing – as if a tuneful, blonde fairy had escaped from a fjord with a synthesizer and a bold determination to entertain.
AURORA performing live on the festival circuit.
Her first full length album, “All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend”, was released in 2016. The obvious singles from the album are the radio-friendly “Conqueror” and the practised pop track “Warrior”, both of which go over wonderfully well live. The “All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend” album is a solid effort for a young artist. I enjoyed “Conqueror” so much when I watched her romping performance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” that I downloaded it immediately and played it incessantly. On my balcony. At 11:00 pm. Having annoyed residents far and wide (if not half the world away; I have a 1200 watt sound system) I am still completely unrepentant about this incident. What can I say? It’s that kind of song.
Cover of AURORA’s album “All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend” (2016)
The LP also delivered some other tunes that were noteworthy, but for different reasons. “Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)” is weird and alarming. It’s AURORA channelling Bjork channelling Nick Cave. It’s a folk-ish track about a girl coming to peace with her murderer, and it’s either the most evocative piece of musical poetry you’ll hear or the worst case of Stockholm Syndrome ever imagined. This ominous song makes people nervous. I mean actual, grown-up people – real adults with jobs and houses and taxation issues. They get scared. It’s distressingly good.
“Winter Bird” is a subdued track about Nordic melancholy and the fact that a stoic exterior can well hide a heavy heart (you’d be depressed too if you had to eat fermented fish all winter). It’s a slow-burner about Norwegian coldness permeating the senses. AURORA provides some wonderfully delicate vocal intonations during the song, allowing one to forgive her somewhat clichéd lyrics. (Well, she’s still only nineteen).
An expanded version of the “All My Demons…” album is also available, featuring some additional acoustic tracks and the “Half the World Away” single. She has recently also covered David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”, imbuing the track with a different, softer kind of melancholy.
The butterfly motif.
Why is AURORA so good? In this time-poor world, why should anyone spend even a moment of his or her life exploring the AURORA oeuvre? Is it the extraordinary, Halsey-ish quality of her vocals? Halsey’s “Badlands” album is wonderful, but it is very much a commercial product, with glittering production and a sheen that is clearly designed to move “units”. Maybe it’s AURORA’s profoundly moving and insightful lyrics? Melanie Martinez writes fantastic lyrics too, but one can’t help hearing record company executives in the background of her tracks urging her to sass it up whilst they check the corporate stock price on their smart phones. Is it perhaps the freak factor – Norwegians make pop music? Of course they do – what about Bjork? (Oh, that’s right – Bjork’s from Iceland. Close enough though). Is it because she’s quixotic and weirdly cute and often seems quite confused? Is it because she seems so vulnerable, like a newly-emerged butterfly drying its wings? Is it all of these put together? All I know is that I like what I hear. You probably will too.
Here are three AURORA tracks that I DARE you to hate. It won’t take more than a moment of your time to learn the truth.
“Conqueror” (Live) “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”, NYC, 2016
Performing “Conqueror” on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” (2016)
Her live performance of this track on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show” is incredible. This is sublime pop music; supremely expressive, quirkily optimistic, wildly catchy and wonderfully uplifting. Her dance moves in this performance are insane – and insanely good.
“Conqueror” digital single (2016)
“Warrior” (Audio). Sublime pop perfection emerging from iced earth – that’s what I hear.
“Warrior” digital single imagery (2016)
She was sixteen when she wrote this track. Enough said. (There is also a live version of this song that sounds somewhat different, find it here:
AURORA performing “Under Stars” live in London, 2015.
AURORA is pop, but she’s so much more as well. Her mystique derives from authenticity. She has the ability to write great tunes, but also to the ability to capture the essence of a song as she sings it. She is transfixing, she is transformative, she is vibrant and she is joyous. She is playful, yet purposeful. She shows no signs so far of being influenced by musical trends or corporate objectives.
A true musical artist wouldn’t give two sh*** about fame and that’s why we love AURORA. She sings because she loves too, not because she wants to shock the impressionable into buying her music. AURORA is a beautiful singer and I hope she keeps doing her thing because she will have loyal fans and in my book that’s more important than mass followings. (You Tube user “Darren”, 2016)
AURORA is currently on tour in Europe and playing to sold-out houses. She has only just begun her journey as a musical artist, but hopefully it will be a long and successful one. I will definitely be along for this Nordic aural adventure (minus the fermented fish).
It’s been a while, but with pleasure we introduce the next guest piece by Bear Skin regular Damien Shalley. Here is his prologue:
Damien Shalley is NOT an undercover counter-intelligence agent using the deep-cover name Michael Wotruba. And please stop calling him Mike at the supermarket, it’s not funny, Damien Shalley has never been convicted of any crime. Charged, yes, but never convicted. Damien Shalley has never visited Washington, Wasilla or Walla Walla, although he has seen the movie “Wild Women of Wango Wango”.Damien Shalley’s goldfish Dave laid three hundred eggs this weekend, leading to the obvious comment – “Nice work buddy.”
Little Greek girls don’t grow up to be pop stars in the UK. Except for Marina Lambrini Diamandis, a solo artist who uses the stage name “Marina and the Diamonds”. Welsh by birth but of Greek heritage, Diamandis is a talent who could not be contained. Sheer force of will (and her amazing voice) allowed her to break down all barriers and secure a major recording deal. She can also write a catchy, hook-laden pop tune – nearly a lost art form today, or so it seems. In her rollicking romp of a track “Shampain”, she speaks of a glittering angel who propelled her towards this vocation. One must not ignore the angels.
Currently undertaking the “Neon Nature” world tour in support of her new album “Froot”, Marina will (hopefully) hit Australian shores later this year. Her engrossing and utterly uplifting stage show is a true experience – beautifully crafted pop melodies delivered by an authentic (and energetic) artist. She has often said that the word “Diamonds” in “Marina and the Diamonds” references her fans, not her backing band (which incidentally is awesome). Be in the audience when she gets here and be one of those beautiful jewels. Shine on you crazy Diamond(is)!
From a musical perspective, if indie, electro-pop and new wave had a baby, the child’s’s gleeful, cooing and effervescent love gurgles would probably sound a lot like Marina Diamandis’ music. It would be delightfully engaging and beautiful, just not easy to define. Diamandis has been diagnosed with a condition called “synaesthesia” a syndrome common to artists throughout the centuries in which the affected person “hears” colours and visually “sees” sounds. She also has alternate perceptions of concepts such days of the week, associating them with particular musical notes. Synaesthesia has no bearing on intellect. This interesting anecdote not only helps to identify the wellspring of her talent, it is also scientific proof that artists are truly “different”.
Music was in a state of flux in the late 2000’s. The ubiquity of rap had become monotonous and a few brazen pop challengers set out to steal the keys to the kingdom. Standing out like members of the PLO at a Bar Mitzvah, they attracted derision and open hostility in a music milieu geared almost exclusively toward “urban”. If you had a sparkly electro-pop recording with a sound vaguely reminiscent of the 80’s, you might as well have thrown it off a bridge. Then thrown yourself off too, and don’t bother leaving a note. Just ask Peaches. (Ever heard of her? Didn’t think so!)
There were of course, rare exceptions – musical “outliers” with the ability to produce compelling and irresistible new sounds that couldn’t be ignored. Sweden’s Robyn, an electro pop princess with a deliberately spare, purely digital sound and provocative lyrics, rocked the boat considerably with her subversively sexy self-titled debut. Icona Pop and the sublimely anachronistic La Roux pitched to pop purists, the latter mimicking almost perfectly (and very deliberately) the sound of 1983. An earlier and very sophisticated attempt to revive classic electro-dance music came from the assured and audacious Goldfrapp (Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory) in 2005. Their incredible “Supernature” album, the absolute “gold” standard for quality new electronic dance music, made US “electric hearts” skip a beat and the music biz take notice. (For your Bear Skin correspondent, the enthralling bliss of hearing Goldfrapp’s “Ride a White Horse” for the first time on a car radio almost resulted in me going off a bridge. Keep your eyes on the road Bear Skinners!) So with the way somewhat paved for her, or at least with music executives willing to consider electronic pop again, Marina Diamandis made her play.
Musical and ambitious (she had been composing music on a keyboard since her teens), Diamandis moved from Wales to London to actively pursue a music career. She studied dance and composition briefly at tertiary level before attempting to break into the music business by auditioning for musical productions and actively courting industry representatives. After numerous rejections and failures, she secured a manager in 2008 and obtained a number of supporting gigs for “name” talent which led her to the attention of Warner Music UK. After lengthy negotiations, a deal was signed and the ascent of Marina Diamandis commenced, an ascent which succeeded, stuttered and revived – an ascent which is now bearing the sweetest of fruit. (Or “Froot”, if you follow).
Her major label debut “The Family Jewels” (2010) is a collection of tracks which alternate between new-wave influenced pop with galloping, synthesizer hearts and avante garde indie tunes with unusual (some might say affected) vocal stylings. Diamandis’ vocal delivery occasionally sounds like a combination of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) and Kate Bush on meth – weirdly operatic and off-kilter. Sometimes she’s just singing bread and butter pop. “Are You Satisfied?”, “I Am Not a Robot” and the instant classic “Shampain” are enlivening creations that balance pop sensibilities and artistic expression. Pick your favourite and enjoy a disappointment-free listing experience.
Diamandis found her musical horizons expanding when Atlantic Records began distributing an EP of her material in the United States called “The American Jewels”. It featured the infectious track “Hollywood”, and was supported with a superbly insouciant video for the song which received national airplay. Transatlantic name recognition followed, as did sales. “Art”, please meet “commerce”!
Who Killed Electra Heart?
In 2012, Diamandis released “Electra Heart”. A joyously unbridled electro-pop outing with a concept-album twist, this release saw her “indie” edges eliminated in favour of polished pop sheen. Diamandis infused the proceedings with a strange narrative – the album is somehow supposed to represent her views on various “states of womanhood” – but this was lost on most listeners, who could only hear pop songs. Successful concept albums have a strong theme and often present linking material between tracks to keep listeners engaged. “Electra Heart” has some truly great commercial pop (“Primadonna”, “Bubblegum Bitch”, “Sex Yeah”), but it doesn’t resonate in any way as a “concept” album or as anything other than the most obvious statement about the life we all share. Touring in support of the album, Diamandis adopted the “Electra Heart” persona; a silver-blonde Jackie O-esque caricature as the vessel for some of these confronting opinions. Her bizarre assertion in the otherwise pop-tastic “Sex Yeah” that the key to women’s freedom is some kind of strange religious deference to their true sexual identities left many people scratching their heads. Interestingly, this album was her first official No. 1 in the U.K., but represented the lowest-selling number-one record of the 21st century in that territory.
People liked the tunes – the American market continued to open up for her at this time – but not everybody opened up to Ms. Electra. This persona was unceremoniously ditched after the tour. People don’t like too much social commentary with their pop, apparently. The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper quizzed Diamandis about this issue, asking whether the Electra Heart persona was a good idea and whether she he saw herself as an artist or a pop star.
Are you a pop star? (Guardian)
(MD) “I don’t think so. There’s a bit of a split with me; some people would see me like that and some wouldn’t. It depends when they followed me from, the first album or the second. The second album got me a lot more pop fans. I don’t feel like a pop artist, but I do love pop stars. The media spotlight changes the definition between a pop star and a pop artist, I think.” (Cragg, Michael, “Marina and the Diamonds: I Killed Electra Heart with Sleeping Pills”, The Guardian, 30 January, 2015). Life 101: One can never know entirely how ones’ art will be interpreted. Marina moved on.
In 2015, the third Marina and the Diamonds album was released. Called “Froot”, it managed to combine the two halves of the whole that make up the musical psyche of Marina Diamandis. It certainly contains pop (and some overtly disco-inspired grooves), but it all feels very artful and honest. The album could almost be described as true detente between indie art and pop commerce. It’s less a compromise and more a heartfelt whole. You get the cool and the catchy alongside the heartfelt and reflective. This near-perfect summation from the Guardian newspaper says it all. “Bouncing about the stage to “Bubblegum Bitch”, Diamandis shows no remorse for the generic pop of her last LP, “Electra Heart”, which stripped away her quirky affectations in favour of bland, blonde ambition. With “Froot”, however, Diamandis has found an organic and fertile middle ground. “Blue” brilliantly marries her synth past with a more disco-influenced present, combining both with an irresistible chorus. “Can’t Pin Me Down” shows her snappy, sassy songwriting at full stretch”. (Clarke, Betty, The Guardian, Friday 13 March, 2015).
Diamandis is currently on the ascendancy in the U.K and in America, touring widely after having cracked the U.S. Billboard Top Ten with her new offering. Newly married, happy and confident, we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from Ms. Marina soon.
People often say that pop music doesn’t matter, that it is minor and insignificant. In reality, it is of as much consequence as Picasso – human expression that affects millions. And that makes it incredibly important.
Thank the Angel.
Marina and the Diamonds Discography
Mermaid vs. Sailor EP, 2007 (Independent)
The Family Jewels, 2010 (679 Artists/Warner Music Group)
Now a regular guest blogger with Bear Skin, Damien Shalley submits another piece this time about electro pop group Lady Tron. He introduces himself in his characteristic style:
Damien Shalley owns a Teflon coated polyester tie that is surprisingly silk-like in appearance. He stays away from open flames whilst wearing it. He believes that the greatest living Englishman isn’t Stephen Hawking but Lemmy from Motorhead. He would like someone to explain to him the precise difference between tequila and mescal. He does not enjoy the taste of parsnip.
If you’re a reader of Bear Skin and would like to submit your own writing, please don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
What does a music fan do to combat the monotonous reality of musical force feeding? Start exploring the music scene for yourself, that’s what. “Seek and you shall find.” And perhaps let yourself be guided on your journey by the spectacular sounds emanating from cult electro-pop bands from the UK. Everybody’s favourite electro pop band du jour is the U.K.’s Chvrches (that’s how they spell it – it’s pronounced “Churches” for the uninitiated). Critics, fans and even casual, non-musical observers seem to love this Glaswegian three-piece and their impossibly catchy tunes. But Chvrches are standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants called Ladytron.
So who or what are Ladytron? Only the single best electronic pop outfit on earth, that’s who. In the early 21st century, they were seemingly the lone exponents of stylish electronica in a music scene dominated by grungy guitars and flannel shirts. Anyone who had ever been aurally seduced by the Eurythmic’s “Love is a Stranger” and then lived to wonder whatever happened to sophisticated electro-pop knew instantly when they heard “Playgirl” that Liverpool’s Ladytron were now carrying that torch. In style, too!
Ladytron are pioneers of new sonic space. They fit no precise pop music category but are obviously heavily influenced by classic electronica from the 80’s. They deliver lush, synthesizer-based compositions with evocative, relatable lyrics. They also mix new and old technology – the main component of their sound is vintage keyboards. The two founding members of the group (Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu) are D.J.’s and producers who also work with other artists, remixing for outfits like Placebo, Soulwax, and the legendary Goldfrapp. They possess a “warm” sound in a musical sub-genre traditionally associated with coldness, tour with a live drummer and occasionally use modified guitar chords to sound like synths and vice versa. They belong to no specific trend or movement, unless being glamorously uplifting is a trend.
Hunt and Wu met in the 1990’s and recorded a song as studio project in 1999 called “He Took Her to a Movie” utilising guest vocalist Lisa Eriksson. Positive feedback resulted in Hunt and Wu developing their project further. Their original concept evolved into a four piece live band incorporating the elegant, Scottish-born Helen Marnie as lead vocalist and the darkly attractive Mira Aroyo, as co-front woman. They have gone on to release six full-length original albums and a seemingly innumerable collection of remix compilations. They have a cult following worldwide and have toured extensively, opening for Bjork, Nine Inch Nails and headlining their own shows. (They played Brisbane’s Tivoli in 2008 and the Hi-Fi in 2009). They last released a studio album, “Gravity the Seducer”, in 2011 but a new original album is on the way. They have never been particularly famous and seem quite prepared to approach the business of making music in their own way. Their emphasis remains on quality sounds, not fame or global domination of the airwaves.
To be fair, Ladytron have achieved a certain level success to date, primarily in the U.K. and Europe, but even there they’re never been “mainstream”. They have released six original albums – five studio recordings and a haughty live album. There has also been the mandatory “Best of” album (featuring two new tracks, one quite delicious) and a number of remix albums, some of which are surprisingly innovative. Lead singer Helen Marnie also released her first solo album “Crystal World” in 2013 to solid reviews. But they’ve never been a “break-out” smash anywhere, despite consistently delivering quality music. They’re a synth pop fan’s secret wish, beckoning seductively from the background.
Early Ladytron was marked by a retro-futuristic flavour. Their first album “604” (2001) is dominated by tunes that are relatively spare and infused with electronic beats that one might hear emanating from a Casio keyboard. It’s as if someone opened up a can of pop music circa 1985. “Commodore Rock” is perhaps the ultimate example of this simple style. Yet the album also yielded one of the band’s most infectious songs – “Playgirl”. An almost perfect electro-pop melody with insightful lyrics about the human need to love and be loved, “Playgirl” offered the musical cognoscenti a glimpse of what Ladytron was capable of doing, and more importantly, what they were capable of becoming in the future.
The band’s next effort, 2002’s “Light and Magic”, offered further musical evolution. The style is similar to “604” but not as bare, and more emphasis is placed on song writing. This is synth with substance. Tracks like “Seventeen” were designed for commercial airplay whilst reinforcing the band’s technical roots. The title track itself is a traditionally structured, solidly commercial and delightfully upbeat composition which expands the Ladytron oeuvre whilst acting as a counter balance to some of the more clinical (yet entrancing) tunes, a prime example being the digital dystopia of “True Mathematics”.
“Softcore Jukebox” (2003) is a mix album of covers by Ladytron’s Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu. Some of their favourite artists and songs are featured. There are two Ladytron songs included, the single remix of “Blue Jeans” called “Blue Jeans 2.0” (featuring the oblique lyrics “You’ve been trying to protect me, an insect living in your memory”) and a cover version of “Oops Oh My“ by Tweet. Although not strictly a Ladytron album in itself, “Softcore Jukebox” does give an insight into the musical influences of the founding members of the band. This release features the inclusion of a vibrant (and unexpected) My Bloody Valentine rock number called “Soon” and the disarmingly funny (and insightful) 80’s track “What’s a Girl to Do?” by Cristina.
“Witching Hour” (2005) is characterised by richer production and strong, traditionally structured songs delivered with a pristine technological edge. It is consistently good from start to finish – an “album experience” as old school vinyl fanciers like to say – and yielded the concert favourite “Destroy Everything You Touch” and the utterly infectious “Sugar”. This is Ladytron’s high water mark – the band defined in shimmering digital glory. “Fighting in Built Up areas” will set your speakers alight with its complex tonal mix, “Witching Hour” offers a relaxing “soft power” listening experience, “International Dateline” reflects beautifully on the break-up of a relationship and the understated tunefulness of “The Last One Standing” manages to take that subject matter even further without disheartening listeners. And the ominous yet catchy track “Weekend” will have special resonance for those with a tendency to overdo things a little on a Friday or Saturday night. This album represents the defining moment for Ladytron as a recording outfit and summarises what the band represent. “Do yourself a favour ………….”
2008’s “Velocifero”, whilst not as consistent overall as “Witching Hour”, yielded some of Ladytron’s best- ever material. “Burning Up”, “Runaway”, “I’m Not Scared”, and “Ghosts” all throb with intensity, melody and heart. The production on this pacy album is refined yet dramatic. This is speaker-searing audio perfection, and many of the tunes on the disc have become remix favourites. “They Gave You a Heart”, “Versus” and even the robotic “Black Cat” and “Deep Blue” are worthwhile listens and the album itself will really put your stereo to the test (and yield most rewarding results).
Live at the London Astoria is a solid collection of the band’s best singles mixed with deeper album cuts. The live versions of many of Ladytron’s best-known tracks are infused with new energy here, some of them almost sounding like new compositions. It’s a rare live album that can sit alongside well-known studio recordings and compliment them with something truly fresh. This is one such album.
“Gravity the Seducer” (2011). Regarded as something of a disappointment in general by fans, this album saw Ladytron experiment with softer, more ambient sounds. There are a few fantastic tunes here too, just not as many as dedicated followers might have expected. “Ace of Hz” and “Mirage” are pure Ladytron, and the album does lend itself to multiple listens. Overall though, this is probably not the best place to start your Ladytron listening experience, and would probably be better suited as the soundtrack to a strange science fiction movie (or spinning on a turntable in someone’s moon palace). This is perhaps best described as artful electronica.
In a perfect world, Ladytron would be more famous than Chvrches. They’d be more famous than Nicki Minaj in fact, and they wouldn’t need her gimmicky videos and controversial album covers. Why? Because Ladytron are actually good. The music they create is very much their own -distinctly retro yet undeniably current. It’s just as worthwhile as any rap superstar’s beat-laden banalities, and Ladytron’s lyrics are upbeat and intelligent.
Impossibly elegant, delightfully upbeat, deliciously seductive and utterly sublime – that’s Ladytron. So the next time you’ve been bludgeoned into coma town by the stultifying fare that currently clogs commercial radio playlists, say “no” to turgid tunes and “yes” to salvation by synthesizer.
Remixed and Rare (Various) (All Ladytron albums have also been released in “Remixed and Rare” versions, and there have been numerous “Extended Play” releases featuring tracks from these compilations and further remixes).
Helen Marnie Discography
Crystal World (2013) (Features singles “The Hunter” and “Hearts on Fire”)