We were not fans of Ladytron’s last album, Gravity the Seducer. To us, it just didn’t sound synthpop, and therefore, not Ladytron. It felt like they were taking themselves way too seriously, so when singer Helen Marnie announced she would be releasing a solo album, we weren’t sure what to expect, but merely hoped for the best. Well, we are happy to report, lead single, The Hunter sees an about face, albeit, a little lighter, towards the Ladytron we had orignially fallen in love with. Some may argue it is a step back, but we feel you shouldn’t mess with a formula so endearing. Our only gripe? What is seriously up with that hair?!
If you are a fan of Fever Ray and The Knife, we think you are going to get all worked up over Restless, the new single by Swedish goth-poptastic artist, Karen Park, who incorporates the Fever Ray template, but makes it slightly more accessible (re: poptastic). This connection extends, however, past the obvious similarities in vocals and tone. Restless was produced by Barry Barnett and Christoffer Berg, the same guys behind Fever Ray and The Knife. Although not well-known (yet) outside of Scandinavia, Karin Park’s profile has risen substantially in her native homeland as she has amassed two Norwegian Grammys and has toured with Azari & III and SBTRKT. We are also including the dreamy and funky Ladytron! mix. The single is due out at the end of next month.
We admit we are more of a singles blog, but there have been some albums that we have been listening to quite a bit, some we thought we would and aren’t, and some that we were told were to come out, but never did. We expected Ladytron, whose 2008’s Velocifero was our top album of the year to appear on this list, and although we respect the showmanship, in all honesty, we feel it is an album to be appreciated, more than to be enjoyed. Same for M83 and Bjork. A couple of bands on our list were to get major label releases, but things did not work out as planned, and they were released on small independent labels or self-released. Some of our most anticpated new albums by bands like Marsheaux, DayBehavior and Northern Kind have yet to come out. All the albums in our top 5 are debut releases. Perhaps this is a passing of the torch that comes with the dawn of a new decade. In addition we saw the re-emergence of the ep as a viable means of getting music out. So without further adeiu, here is our admittedly very subjective list of top albums of the year.
5. Monarchy – Around The Sun
With tracks like I Won’t Let Go, Maybe I’m Crazy, The Phoneix Alive, Love Get Out of My Way and Black is the Color of My Heart, there is so much to fall in love with by this duo who mix synthpop with dance. We feel it is a crime of the worst kind that these guys aren’t household names… yet. A great album to get your groove on. Check out our review of their New York City concert here.
4. Johan Agebjorn – Casablance Nights
We were really hoping for a new Sally Shapiro album this year, so when we heard the genius behind her was releasing an album instead, we were at first slightly apprehensive, but all fears were immediately dashed upon listening to this italo-disco masterpiece. Sally Shapiro is back in true form on the title track and Alice and Johan Agebjorn had a stroke of genius by using Queen of Hearts for the simply sublime, The Last Day of Summer (more on QOH below). We are still praying for a new Sally Shapiro album, but until then, this will do just fine.
Queen of Hearts – The Arrival
Speaking of Queen of Hearts, her debut was our top EP of the year, and a trend we are seeing a lot more of as musicians self release their material. We first became enamored with a teaser of Freestyle and it is clear her influences lie in electronics and synthpop with a nod to Kylie and Little Boots. Every track is a winner, but we are particularly taken by the aforementioned Freestyle as well as Shoot the Bullet and Where Are They Now. Best of all, she has released a gazillion of remixes that she has made available to download for free, so support your artists and get this EP – it’s priced as a bargain since it is under that of a happy hour cocktail!
2. Mirrors – Lights and Offerings
No band captured the heart and spirit of synthpop music better than Mirrors, whose album Lights and Offerings, a kind of “Best of” of the material they had released during the past couple of years, proved the genre was still very much alive and well. Although often compared to Hurts, Mirrors are the real deal and they melted our hearts with such now classic (at least to us) tracks like Into The Heart, Ways to an End, Hide and Seek and Look At Me.
1. The Sound of Arrows – Voyage
There was no debating the album that we fell in love with most this year. Nearly 4 years in the making, with enough setbacks to become a Lifetime movie of the week, Voyage was finally self-released this year, and wow, was it ever worth the wait. To describe this album as epic would be an understatement, as each track transports the listener into their magical world of innocence and hope. The album is so cohesive and accomplished, it is simply stunning that it is a debut album. Nearly every track is a winner, although we are most partial to Into The Clouds, M.A.G.I.C., My Shadow and Nova. If you haven’t heard this album, stop reading now and get this album. You will be so glad you did.
Washed Out: Within and Without
Space March: Monumental
Holy Ghost: Holy Ghost
Yelle: Safari Disco Club
Liverpool’s Ladytron are back with a new video, Mirage, their third video off their latest album, Gravity The Seducer. Mirage, like the album itself, is a radical departure from their trademark synth sound and seems more rich organic, utilizing a wide range of instruments like the flute, which is featured prominently here. Overall, Mirage has a very psychedelic 60s sound to it.
We thought we’d share some buzz worthy songs that may have missed your radar.
We confess we are more of a 90’s era Bjork fan, back when her songs used instruments and melodies and she wasn’t making headlines wearing swan dresses. Although she is looking just as weird as ever, some are saying her new single, Crystalline, is a return to her Vespertine era. We haven’t been able to get fully behind it, but admit we are warming up to it as it is a grower.
M83 – Midnight City
In 2008, M83 released the critically acclaimed, Saturdays = Youth,which netted 4 great singles, especially We Own the Sky. Now they are back and are giving us a taste of their new double album with single, Midnight City. The song takes the harsh background synths of Kim and Jessie and brings them right up front and center. It’s a little too much for our tastes and we are also not loving the Duran Duran’s Rio sounding sax bit at the end, but hey, we love them anyway and are excited about what is in store.
Ladytron – White Elephant
No need to re-review a song we have reviewed before here, White Elephant, the new single by our favorite Liverpool quartet, now has a video! In it, they are at some sort of freakish fetish sex party, wearing outfits and masks inspired by animals (this theme is extended throughout the video by dead stuffed animals used as props). Dizzingly weird camera angles follow our singers Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo as they slither through sex-filled hallways and rooms. A gun appears as a major plot point and something happens… or does it happen?. You will have to watch it to find out, since we can’t begin to make any sense of it.
Hypnotic and unlike anything Ladytron has put out before, Ambulances, with its beautifully soft yet menacing melody, sounds like the lullaby a twisted individual would sing to a child to induce nightmares (“If I should ever let you go, I will never let you know”). It is a complete turn from the band whose last album, 2008s Velocifero, was often critiqued, but definitely not by bop2pop who simply loved it, for sounding like a commercial carbon copy to their 2005 album, The Witching Hour. Gone now too are the familar drone vocalizations and amped guitars they have become known for, now replaced by more organic instrumentation and vocal harmonies. Good stuff, but we can’t help feeling a little nostolgic for the original sound we fell in love with.
Ladytron are currently in Normandy filming the first single off their new album, Gravity The Seducer, which is due out in September. White Elephant is an interesting choice for a lead single. There is a definite experimental, almost dreamlike quality to it, not typical, of a lead single. They seem to be boldly comitting comercial suicide, however this is a band whose success has not relied on the chart performance of their singles, but rather on consistently great albums and frequent touring.
The band refers to the new album as “baroque-n-roll” relying less on electronics and more on organic instruments like the Autoharp, Conn organ, piano, violin and cello. The last time the band had a radical departure in sound was The Witching Hour, which introduced guitars and went on to become their most commercial and critically successful album. Let’s see if this change will have a similar affect and see how they will incorporate these new instruments and sound when touring.