Ladytron

Witching Hour

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AllMusic Review by

Despite a three-year wait, Ladytron sounds fresher and more vital than ever on their triumphant third album, Witching Hour. While the label problems that sidelined the album's release must have been frustrating, in some ways the delay works in the band's favor: though they were momentarily (and somewhat opportunistically) lumped in with the electroclash movement, Ladytron always had a stronger sense of melody and pop songcraft than most of the other artists associated with that style, and with electroclash all but dead, the band's identity comes through even more clearly. Much darker and less overtly synth pop than any of their earlier work, Witching Hour is almost unrelentingly gloomy, covering topics like the fleeting nature of relationships, destruction, and war. However, the album wears it well, conjuring a glamorous dystopia with songs like "High Rise" and "Soft Power" -- it's not often that bleakness sounds this pretty. It also helps that Witching Hour boasts some of Ladytron's finest songwriting to date, including the brilliantly melodramatic, ever-so-slightly gothy "Destroy Everything You Touch" and "International Dateline," which shows the band hasn't lost its touch when it comes to writing affecting breakup songs. By stripping away some of the synth pop veneer of 604 and Light & Magic, the shoegaze/dream pop influences that bubbled underneath the surface of Ladytron's music come to the fore on this album. My Bloody Valentine's brilliant "Soon" was the first track of the band's Softcore Jukebox mix album, and that song's fusion of guitar haze and dance beats forms a large part of this album's musical DNA. "Sugar"'s trippy blur of buzzsaw guitars and mechanical rhythms take this sound in a noisy, poppy direction, while "WhiteLightGenerator" and the wintry "All the Way" end Witching Hour with a trancelike serenity. While the album loses some of the impressive focus of its first half as it unfurls, the layered, intricate production on tracks like "Beauty*2" and "CMYK" -- one of Ladytron's best instrumental interludes -- remains interesting. While Helena Marnie's ghostly vocals are as lovely and effective as ever, Mira Aroyo's small presence on Witching Hour is one of the album's few disappointments, although she shines on "Fighting in Built Up Areas." Nitpicking aside, Witching Hour is the album that Ladytron always seemed capable of, and its dark, dreamy-yet-catchy spell makes it the band's most sophisticated, and best, work to date.

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