Ladytron’s superlative 2001 debut, 604, possesses the rare quality of an album that felt incredibly retro upon its release yet seems to have grown younger with age. New Wave had been dead and buried under a pile of Eddie Vedder impersonators for over a decade. Synths had more or less made their way onto the endangered species list and the glistening ‘70s influences that also inform Ladytron’s music served more as nostalgia than viable sound. But by mid-decade, the likes of LCD Soundsystem were clearing the way for dance-punk to grab hold of alternative music’s collective consciousness. Take a look at today’s musical landscape, and indie blood pumps with a hearty content of synthpop. Meanwhile, new wave has seen a revival and union with guitar-based rock that has made the new millennium far more instrumentally integrated, allowing bands further options to explore sounds both old and new.

While entirely imbued with their unique brand of retro-futurism, Ladytron’s debut exhibits an impressively diverse range of sound and is all over the map from track to track. “Mu-Tron” opens the album with a deep, pulsing electronic beat that, when joined with forceful percussion, almost comes off sounding like Gorillaz, who would debut their first single about a month later. The track is a slow burn, straying from the big beat purveyors who briefly pushed electronics above guitars in the mid to late-’90s and announcing that Ladytron’s concerns aren’t dancefloor-centric. “Discotraxxx” then introduces us to the full Ladytron effect, pumping in our first vocals in Bulgarian (delivered by Mira Aroyo) before the almost too-precious intonations of lead vocalist Helen Marnie drift in over a sleek yet industrial electronic churn.

From there, the album is one of exploration for the listener. In hindsight, the merging of complementing female vocals with retro robotic overtones (has there ever been a more appropriately literal band name than “Ladytron?”) may not surprise. But given the subsequent electronic shift in indie music, this was a wildly unique sound around the turn of the millennium. “Another Breakfast with You” sees Marnie coo about love in a tone that sounds like an android that’s first experiencing that emotion. “The Way That I Found You” repeats its title phrase so often that there’s a mechanical feel to that track as well, but the systematic tone of the band’s songwriting blends perfectly with a slightly cold vocal delivery that nevertheless is awash with evocative imagery.

Halfway in, “Paco!” throws a curveball with the Bulgarian-accented Aroyo taking over the mic and delivering vivid descriptions of the various wares of a vast department store, all over a deep, pulsing beat. Aroyo leads the charge again on “Commodore Rock,” but her muted vocals are pushed far into the background, with harsh stutters and clapping percussion illustrating Ladytron at their most clashingly discordant.

And this midpoint is where the album congeals its more experimental excesses into a honed focus. For as uncharacteristically pop-y as “Playgirl” is, this is also emblematic of the general Ladytron aesthetic. Continuing their artfully repetitive lyrical approach, we’re told of “sleeping in tomorrow’s world” and dreamy imagery of a disenchanted young woman is juxtaposed with overly technical lyrics about sorting codes and account numbers, embodying the recurring blend of the emotional with the coldly methodical. “He Took Her to a Movie” displays Aroyo’s vocals at their most effective and is backed by a syncopated beat and staccato organ straight out of a classic horror flick. And Marnie’s delicate vocals over lashing electronics on “Ladybird” inject a late dose of the more emotive side of Ladytron even as a hint of minor-key foreboding slips in. The eerie organ resurfaces on “Jet Age,” a track that, when coupled with a Doors-like jangle, feels pulled from the ‘70s of an alternate universe.

What sounded almost otherworldly in 2001 was an element of widespread Lollapalooza fare by mid-decade. Ladytron inspired others more than helmed a movement. Listening to 604 today, one hears a freshness that few albums can maintain after nearly 15 years. The shift back to new wave influences wasn’t sparked by Ladytron alone, of course, but 604 marks one of the signs of things to come. The record was critically acclaimed but failed to chart, even in the band’s native UK. But it had enough interest to warrant a 2004 re-release with some live bonus tracks. Ladytron scattered four more albums over the next 11 years, each inching up to incrementally higher charting positions. Their Best of 00-10 compilation is also an essential listen. But their opening salvo of 604 may be Ladytron’s most memorable effort to date, an innovative retro-futurist sound that simply gets better with age.

  • Ladytron: Ladytron

    As the world ends right before our eyes, Ladytron takes it upon themselves to supply the s…
  • Save Yourselves!

    This techno-satire mostly feels fresh and vital even when indulging in well-worn tropes. …
  • Revisit: Idiocracy

    Just as Mike Judge’s lampooning of cubicle culture in Office Space feels like a relic fro…
  • Oeuvre: Hayao Miyazaki: Ponyo

    Our goldfish-turned-human obtains her agency by adding to the human world the vibrancy of …
  • John Coltrane: Ballads/A Love Supreme

    Does the world really need a 55th-anniversary remaster of A Love Supreme, without any extr…
  • Low Cut Connie: Private Lives

    Weiner’s comfort standing on instruments and running through crowds once overshadowed the …
  • Nasty: Menace

    Those who want a solid summation of what modern beatdown is all about, look no further. …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Save Yourselves!

This techno-satire mostly feels fresh and vital even when indulging in well-worn tropes. …