After the release of their last full LP, 2008’s Velocifero, Liverpool’s dark electro-pop four-piece Ladytron haunted the edges of the music world, their cult following licking their chops at the prospect of a follow-up. The release of “Ace of Hz” on the soundtrack to the 2011 edition of the FIFA video game series and the follow-up of actual lead single “White Elephant” only fanned those hungry flames. And now, after three years of waiting, Gravity the Seducer has landed, a markedly changed beast, a subtler, somehow more delicate disc than those that preceded it. There aren’t any “Destroy Everything You Touch” hooks here, but rather they lurk off in the distance; the intricate, lush arrangements suggesting just as much as that memorable chorus said.
Opening with the chilled sunshine of “White Elephant” sets the tone perfectly, a bright chord progression that has its twist of cool breeze near the end, aided by icily plinking piano and far-off strings. There are moments on the track that sound downright cheery, but there are also those that ring like dark omens. Rather than deciding on a single tone, they pull both off without any clash or discord, a difficult task. Following that, the electronic percussion that opens “Mirage” sounds disturbingly cheery from these oftentimes purveyors of dark disco dance pop. It too has its own little flourishes of darkness, though, whatever the opposite of a silver lining is, and they manage to give depth to a song that so many others would turn twee.
The darkly New Wave-y “White Gold” aches and shudders, its haunting grandiosity making it worth the price of the full disc, a tune that should be a set piece in a live setting. It sprawls out at five minutes, Helen Marnie crooning that there’s “no one left to rescue me,” a huge track that never lacks for drama or attention. This is the most familiar-sounding inclusion on the album, all shiny, dark edges. “Ace of Hz” comes next, lacking the same emotional punch, Marnie this time sounding weak, unenthused. The percussion feels too familiar, its stunted thump generic.
The instrumental “Ritual” provides a nice counterpoint, though, a lockstep groove that coolly flutters and jitters. It’s the most easily dance-friendly track on the disc, a retreat to the floor after a brief misstep. This return to stride is an important change, returning to the unexpected. The tightly cropped “Moon Palace” tacks on that mantle well, with dark, rolling fogs of cooed harmony vocals drifting around in the background. Mira Aroyo this time takes on lead vocals, sounding as if she’s just barely hanging onto the melody, an affected and intriguing choice. It’s a song that comes across like a soundtrack to a smoky graveyard scene or something similarly spooky.
“Altitude Blues” is a little too fluff-y, lingering too far in the background without producing something to latch onto. While there are a couple of tracks that tend towards that problem, Ladytron has the album sequenced so that a captivating moment follows in short order. On “Ambulances”, the stuttered clanking percussion are downright claustrophobic, a mechanical encapsulating sound, but the soaring, reverb-heavy wordless harmonies catapulting to and fro in the background are the epitome of human emotion, violas capping off the mix beautifully.
“Melting Ice” drips and crystallizes, while “Transparent Days” floats by with somewhat troubling, glittery flourishes, as if on Tinkerbell’s fairy dust. But the closing pair of “Ninety Degrees” and “Aces High” embodies the band’s bold choices on Gravity the Seducer. The former is another long-form, theatrical track that rises and crashes, somehow managing to not be aimless, its long, rambling structure succeeding without a hook in sight, while the latter is another brief, pulsing instrumental. They leave on a totally unexpected high note, producing memorable moments in ways they hadn’t before.
Essential Tracks: “White Gold”, “Ninety Degrees”, and “White Elephant”