At moments while listening to Gravity the Seducer, Ladytron’s fifth full length studio release, I can’t help but feel like the sinner on the day of the Rapture: left behind. While there are productions on this album that exceed anything else Ladytron has done in terms of complexity, structure, and fullness of sound (see the truly epic “Ambulances,” which builds from a sparse beat and ethereal vocal into a full-body rocker), I’m unfortunately left with the feeling that Ladytron might be outgrowing me, and that’s a little sad. Ladytron’s Daniel Hunt has stated that he considers this the group’s “most perfect” record to date. While I wouldn’t presume to argue the point with him, I expect that I won’t be the only fan of their previous work left scratching his head at times by this latest release.
Atmospheric is clearly the best word for the overarching feeling of Gravity the Seducer. The high points on Ladytron’s first four albums have always been masterfully arranged, darkly beautiful, icy cold, and danceable. Gravity the Seducer seems to change the equation a bit. Most noticeable on first listen is that the danceability of many of the songs is gone. Melodic with understated rhythms, a track like the album opener and first single “White Elephant” is beautiful, well-paced, and sounds fantastic in headphones - but I’m curious to see how it works in front of a crowded room. Daniel Hunt calls the new sound “baroque ‘n roll”, and why not?
An extremely cinematic album, this record is about crafting moods and dreamscapes. However the emphasis on texture, subtlety, and production seem to have come with a reduction in immediacy and impact. The cynicism that animated lyrics like “They only want you when you’re seventeen. When you’re twenty one you’re no fun.” (“Seventeen” from Light and Magic) or “There’s a ghost in me, who wants to say I’m sorry doesn’t mean I’m sorry” (“Ghosts” from Velocifero) is absent. In their place we have psychedelic imagery like “Train tracks through the desert/sad eyes little puppet/you don’t listen/you do not exist” (“Mirage”), that while no less full of emotion, lack some of the clarity and perhaps the cleverness of the earlier work.
While these lyrics mirror the more cerebral style of the music, even more striking when compared with previous releases is the sound of the lyrics. First, there is a sparseness of lyrics - instrumental numbers like “Ritual”, “Transparent Days”, and “Aces High” (an instrumental reprise of “Ace of Hz”) seem like key portions of the record as opposed to the interludes that they may have come off as in other instances. Yet, even where there are lyrics, they are often so minimal or heavily filtered as to easily blend into the overall mood of the track, overpowered by the full-bodied synths, as in “Altitude Blues” or “Melting Ice”.
At bottom, Gravity the Seducer lacks a real prototypical Ladytron dancefloor banger. “Mirage”, “Ambulances”, and “Melting Ice” may be the hardest hitting songs on the album, but none of them are really designed to make you move your ass. While “Ritual” comes close, being an instrumental it essentially leaves out a defining characteristic of the group. “Ace of Hz”, which originally debuted as a new single appended to the Ladytron “best of” compilation released earlier this year, plays as a throwback to the 602 or Light and Magic days. But lacking the lyrical force of songs from those albums it falls short as well.
Ladytron has always made significant stylistic evolutions from one album to the next. But perhaps what makes Gravity the Seducer so surprising is how little it was forecast by their previous release. Where Velocifero built upon the band’s discovery of the guitar in Witching Hour by adding heavy beats and varied percussion in such a way that had the band flirting with industrial, Gravity the Seducer swings the pendulum just as far in the other direction, reaching the height of psychedelia.
Make no mistake, this is not an ambient record. While the rock rhythms have essentially disappeared and the pacing is noticeably slower, this is still a tightly crafted, carefully composed electropop record. Indeed, this album may be Ladytron’s most even and consistent. Nearly every track is well produced and interesting, and they all play well with each other. Nor is this a chillwave record - whatever that word means. Though, with the recent success of artists like Washed Out, I am certain that there will some for whom this will be Ladytron’s best work. In fact, I already have some people in mind to recommend this album to. Still, for me, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing.