Ladytron are an interesting band; constantly coming up with something new for each album (this one being their fifth) and despite being such an electronic-based band, the sound remains very warm and human rather than cold, robotic and detached. For this album, they've let go of the heavy, industrial powerhouse sound that dominated fourth album Velocifero, and gone in the opposite direction completely - the songs are ethereal, very atmospheric and aren't really grounded by bass or huge drums as on the last record. The album's opener, White Elephant, is a case in point with its beautiful synth melody and the ethereal vocals of singer Helen Marnie; a definite highlight of the album.
There are a few songs that evoke older Ladytron ever so slightly, such as Mirage or Ace of Hz, but on the whole, it's all new and improved. There are a few instrumentals here - Ritual (possibly the heaviest sounding song on the album), the epic, cinematic Transparent Days and Aces High, which is just a redesigned Ace of Hz without vocals. Despite being a good tune on its own, maybe it should have been left off, especially considering that what comes before it - 90 Degrees - is the sort of song you'd imagine closing the album, what with its floaty, atmospheric vibe and what I think is Marnie's best vocal on the album.
Speaking of vocals, the band's Mira Aroyo is relegated to a lot of backing vocals, which is for the best on this album, as she fits some of the band's darker, heavier songs far better than Marnie, but as this album is not like that, she only gets lead vocals on two songs, Moon Palace and Altitude Blues - the latter is more spoken word than singing, whereas the former is probably the best thing they've ever done, with some fantastic imagery in the lyrics and a real sense of epicness throughout.
Elsewhere, we have: White Gold, a slow, minimal song based mainly on drums and vocals with a synth occasionally rearing its head in the verses, whereas the song feels fuller during the chorus. A fantastic synth melody that crops up a couple of times later in the song feels slight underused, however. Also, we have Ambulances, a darker, sadder song with several "aaah..."s and harmonising, but it's all restrained until the last 30 seconds, when the drums smash their way in to send this one out in style. Lastly, Melting Ice has a slightly Pet Shop Boys vibe to it in places, and is another highlight, with a brilliant chorus with the lyrics "Passing clouds hold onto shadows, pouring light on ancient shipwrecks...".
A lovely, warm, melodic album that is powerful without resorting to smashing drums (much), but instead takes its power from its sheer beauty and its magnificent lyrical imagery, particularly on Moon Palace and 90 Degrees. Maybe one track too long, however (Aces High, I'm looking at you).
FAVOURITE TRACKS: White Elephant, Moon Palace, Melting Ice
LEAST FAVOURITE TRACKS: Altitude Blues, Aces High