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Post Date: 12/31/2005
Witching Hour

Format Reviewed: CD

Inasmuch as it's possible for an album this dependent on technology to do so, Witching Hour achieves a certain timelessness. Sure, these songs betray the inspiration of three decades of electronic pop, but none of them touch long enough to leave a fingerprint. Instead, Ladytron's warm songs sound new, retro and familiar without ever letting on that they've ever listened to synth-pop before. Indeed, these songs are so uninterested in showing off their electronic chops that Ladytron might as well be using acoustic instruments. Nowhere on Witching Hour will you find Four Tet's nutty syncopated electro-drum work or Caribou's mind-altering, noise layering cross-panned outings. All you get is simple, dark, entrancing pop from beginning to end.

Perhaps it's the result of an electro-dance-punk backlash, but there's something refreshing about synthesized songs this straightforward and streamlined. It's as if Ladytron has melted all the jagged Dust Brothers rhythms into slow, numbing, pieces that, if not for the omnipresent dance floor drumbeat, would be droning dirges. The music flows in long, buzzing notes, and it's never quite clear what's making the noise. It sounds like a peaceful, meditative combination, but songs like "High Rise" move these elements into sinister waters. The detached, robotic vocals recall Kraftwerk's "Radio-Activity", but Ladytron tack on a hook during the chorus that's more melodic than anything that German four-piece ever wrote. Hooks like these solidify the band's position as pop musicians, not electronica musicians.

"Weekend"'s host of digital sounds don't even attempt to sound like live instruments, but it's a rock song through and through, from its verse/chorus/verse structure to its sing-along-friendly chorus. Sure, it sometimes sounds like Duran Duran's "Planet Earth", but it also sounds a bit like Chixdiggit!, Chuck Berry, Madonna, and Stereolab. All of Witching Hour fits that mold: even on "Fighting in Built Up Areas", in which the band succumbs to a little KMFDM-style industrial gimmickry, a surge of pop craftsmanship floats to the surface, defying the band's efforts to sound detached. So where does that leave us? Here, finally, is a goth album for people who hate goth, an electronic album for people who hate electronica, and a pop album for everyone else.

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