Beginner’s guide to Ladytron

If you only ever watch the top forty, you won’t have come across Ladytron before, because they have never actually been there. But quietly, in the background, they have been around for fifteen years, producing dark and slightly subversive electronic pop music.

Key moments

Their only truly commercial release, Witching Hour (2005), with its exceptional singles Destroy Everything You Touch and Sugar. And probably those remixes that they did of your other favourite artists, such as Dave Gahan, Goldfrapp, Kings of Convenience, and plenty of others.

Where to start

Skip their 2010 best of album and jump directly to the high point of their career, Light and Magic (2002). Give it a bit of time, as it may not be the easiest album to listen to initially.

What to buy

Roll back to 2001 for their brilliant debut 604, then Velocifero (2008), and then Gravity the Seducer (2011), and you’ll have nearly everything you need.

Don’t bother with

Any of the singles – even the occasional b-side is not worth the bother, and the remixes are rarely of any interest. Each album has an accompanying Remixed and Rare collection, but these are really only of interest to absolute completists. And surprisingly, unless I was just very unlucky, they turn out not to be very good live.

Hidden treasure

The patchy Witching Hour (2005) includes a couple of exceptional singles. Tender Talons, a bonus track from the Extended Play mini-album (2006), is an unexpected pleasure.

For stowaways

The Future Sound of London – Lifeforms

Sadly forgotten by many, this week marks the twentieth anniversary of a groundbreaking piece of ambient music. The Future Sound of London‘s second full album (if you don’t count the Tales of Ephidrina side project from the previous year) was entirely unlike the first, and was truly exceptional.

It opens with the electronic chirrups and chirps of the exceptional Cascade, previously reviewed in its full forty minute form here. In an era when electronic music was only just becoming the norm, FSOL essentially threw all the rules out of the window and created a beautiful, ethereal sound, in a way that nobody else ever quite had before. There had been plenty of attempts, but Lifeforms succeeds in ways that their predecessors had only dreamed.

With just over ninety minutes of ambient music, this double album seems to weave its way, dreamlike, from jungle to ocean on some far flung alien world. Ill Flower washes its way into Flak and then Bird Wings, each bringing slightly different elements to the fore.

The rippling piano arpeggio of Dead Skin Cells seems to mark a change – after four tracks the album is beyond its introductory phase, and we’re ready for something a bit more familiar. Still heavily washed by otherworldly soundscapes, the piano and drums seem to gently guide us on a path towards civilisation.

Which, by the time of the title track Lifeforms, we have very clearly reached. The human voices and huge pad sounds are joyous, uplifting, and part of a quite wonderful piece of music. This mixes into Eggshell, with its melodic percussive sounds and bizarre warped electronic wizardry. Finally, the first half of the album closes with the slightly disturbing beauty of Among Myselves.

The science fiction theme of Lifeforms becomes altogether more sinister with the second disc. It’s a little more abstract and less melodic, so it may require a little patience at times, but having set the mood with the first disc, you should be ready for it by now. After the brief but strangely very familiar introduction Domain comes the exquisite and entirely disturbing Spineless Jelly.

It is difficult to talk about Lifeforms in the past tense – in many ways it sounds every bit as contemporary as it ever did. That is to say, not very – the otherworldly qualities of it somehow place it entirely outside time.

The middle part of the second disc is entirely ambient, with the quirky electronic infrastructure of Interstat mixing into the very gentle panpipe sounds of Vertical Pig. Then Cerebral introduces a bizarre processed guitar sound. Life Form Ends channels the earlier title track, but this time with added warped technological backing amongst the tribal chanting.

Vit brings things very much back to earth, with a touch of feedback, a lot of 303 acid noises, and some very familiar sounds – was that a cow sample? Perhaps this weird alien world has some kind of synthesised earth captured within it? Or maybe it is earth after all? Or maybe it would help not to think too hard at this point.

There’s something particularly compelling about Omnipresence, as it brings together many of the themes that we’ve enjoyed over the previous hour or so of music. This is, for better or for worse, a long album, and the reminder of quite how brilliant it has been is very welcome. The three tracks which follow – Room 209, with its retro bass stylings, Elaborate Burn, and the brilliantly titled Little Brother wind things down to a very gentle close.

So Lifeforms is an album which can be enjoyed on many levels – within the music are hidden depths and ingenious plot twists, but beyond that, if you have a little imagination, lurks a compelling science fiction story which is every bit as good as any Hollywood movie.

For some reason Lifeforms does not seem to be available directly from the FSOL website, but you can find it at other download stores instead. You can also read the Beginner’s guide to The Future Sound of London here.

Saint Etienne – Casino Classics (Reissue)

Casino Classics had an odd genesis, as albums go – originally released as the limited edition bonus disc for Saint Etienne‘s 1995 singles collection Too Young to Die, it was then reissued a year later with a second disc of its own, and was a pretty comprehensive collection of the remixes of the first few years of their career.

Now it’s back, as a two-disc or four-disc special edition, with a bonus collection of download remixes too. Each with a completely different track listing from either of the original remixes, attempting to bring together the best mixes from the entirety of Saint Etienne‘s career to date. Let’s take a listen to the new two-disc version.

Unfortunately, things have got a bit confused. All the tracks have been shuffled around from the original release, but some of them have also gained bits from their previous neighbours. I’m not as familiar with these as I ought to be, but Andrew Weatherall‘s Mix of Two Halves version of Only Love Can Break Your Heart has stolen about fifteen seconds from somewhere; I think at the start. It’s still a good mix, fascinatingly almost entirely unlike the original in the style of a mix from the late nineties until the second half, when some slightly dubby pieces of the original start to turn up.

But even in two disc form, this is an enormous collection, so I need to cut myself short here, otherwise I won’t be able to mention The Chemical Brothers‘ quite fascinating version of Like a Motorway or The Aloof‘s take on Speedwell.

But honestly nothing on disc one really blows me away particularly. Highlights include Peter Heller‘s charming Midsummer Madness mix of Kiss and Make Up, Monkey Mafia‘s remix of Filthy, and Gordon King‘s lovely – if ultimately rather dated – take on Avenue. Aphex Twin‘s version of Who Do You Think You Are? still leaves me a little underwhelmed, even a couple of decades on.

Towards the end of disc one comes Underworld‘s sweet and mellow version of Cool Kids of Death, and then right at the end is Hug My Soul, remixed by Sure is Pure. Both have lost a little of their duration to other tracks, but together they close the disc in rather good fashion. But on the whole, this disc leaves me feeling that a bit of editing might be beneficial – there are three tracks approaching the ten minute mark and nothing under five, and while the musical merit of many of them shouldn’t be doubted, some do drag a little.

Disc two kicks off on fine – if even longer – form, with David Holmes‘s thirteen minute dark acid version of Like a Motorway. Then comes a blast from the past, in every sense, with Motiv8‘s extended version of He’s on the Phone. Ultimately I’m no fan of Motiv8 – in fact I think his habit in the mid-90s of churning out the same mix again and again for everybody who was anybody was more than a little irritating. But there was a reason why his formula was successful – it was actually pretty good – and I think He’s on the Phone is probably the best of his series of identikit mixes.

We then get PFM‘s frantic drum and bass version of The Sea, followed by a couple of dull mixes of Angel and Sylvie, before Paul van Dyk‘s great version of How We Used to Live. Then finally, as things always should with Saint Etienne, they take a turn for the brilliant with Hybrid‘s remix of the brilliant Boy is Crying. It may be seventeen tracks into the album, but it does feel a little as though everything was leading to this.

Having persevered through two hours of overlong and often dated fare, all the good stuff seems to be clumped up at the end – you get Two Lone Swordsmen‘s brilliant version of Heart Failed (In the Back of a Taxi), and then Mark Brown‘s truly exceptional extended single version of Burnt Out Car. The closing track sees Richard X extending his own Method of Modern Love and making it a little less good than the single version, but it’s still pretty special, and really not a bad way of closing the album.

If you go for the four disc version, disc three is distinctly patchy, while disc four features some incredibly good moments, but you’ll be pretty exhausted by the time you make it there. There’s also a bonus disc’s worth of downloads too, which include a couple of forgotten gems, so it is a good collection all round.

Casino Classics is an odd remaster though, and it is a little patchy in places, so I maybe wouldn’t advise first time Saint Etienne listeners to bother with it. As a collection of remixes from one of the most important pop acts of the last couple of decades though, it’s pretty good.

The version of Casino Classics we’ve just listened to is this one, but if it’s still available and your pocket is feeling a little heavy, you could just go with the four disc version, which boasts twice as much music and some lovely DVD sized packaging. Don’t forget the bonus download disc either!

Preview – Róisín Murphy

Roísín Murphy is back with what seems to be an EP of cover versions in Italian, Mi Senti. Which is a slightly odd concept for the Irish singer formerly of Moloko, but why not? It’s not quite in the style of her brilliant 2007 album Overpowered, but it’s still very good.

I couldn’t find any official videos, but this one for Ancora Tu is pretty appropriate:

Chart for stowaways – 29 March 2014

After a bit of a break while the album chart went a bit bonkers, it’s time for its return. It’s not a lot less bonkers:

  1. Moby – Innocents
  2. B.E.F. – Music of Quality & Distinction, Vol. 3: Dark
  3. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Organisation
  4. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture and Morality
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
  6. Chicane – The Best of 1996-2008
  7. De La Soul – AOI: Bionix
  8. Deep Forest – Deep Forest
  9. Enigma – The Screen Behind the Mirror
  10. The Clarke and Ware Experiment – Pretentious