January 12, 2020
Formed in the underbelly of the industrial, electronica and punk scenes, electroclash quickly turned fishnets, androgynous midriff-baring cut-off tees and eyeliner unisex, and forced conformist teens to gamely attempt to dance to its often dissonant, minimalist electronic compositions. The lyrics, if there even were any, almost always dealt with sexuality, promiscuity and the passive promotion of substance abuse. Actually, none of this matters now, because I have just noticed that the tracklist opens with a My Bloody Valentine song.
As it turns out, this isn’t a proper album by electroclash juggernauts Ladytron at all, but is instead a compilation mixtape of sorts. Released in late 2003, when the popular backlash against electroclash was beginning to pick up steam, the band may have thought it to be a good idea to focus on the DJ roots of members Reuben Wu and Daniel Hunt. As such, this record is 18 tracks of Ladytron influences, with a couple of contributions by the group, and from their labelmates on Invicta Hi-Fi.
As mentioned, British shoegazers My Bloody Valentine get things started with their club-flavored ‘Soon’, off their seminal 1991 record Loveless. It’s an excellent pick, and a surprising one as well, given the frequency with which deserving tracks on Loveless are often overlooked in favor of others like ‘Only Shallow’ or ‘Sometimes’ (the latter was featured in 2003’s Lost in Translation soundtrack. As it stands, the track is a remarkably prescient premonition of what late 90s electronica and techno artists like Massive Attack and the Chemical Brothers brought to audiences on Mezzanine (1998) and Dig your own Hole (1997), respectively. The track is a blissed-out seven-minute rush of layered, overdubbed guitars and processed guitar feedback courtesy of Kevin Shields and wispy, wordless vocals from Bilinda Butcher.
Manchester post-punk icons The Fall are up next, with ‘Hit the North, Pt. 1’, a lively and danceable tune. The catchy horns, thick bass rhythm and Mark E. Smith’s signature incoherent chanting resulted in the group’s only notable commercial success. Another British art-rock group receives props as well: Wire contribute their iconic single ‘The 15th’ to what’s becoming an excellent, varied mixtape. Ladytron haven’t forgotten the danceability criteria for these picks, and Wire doesn’t disappoint: crunchy guitars peppered with electronic effects make this perfect car stereo fodder for a night drive to ponder your existential ennui.
The choice of the relatively obscure 80s dance-pop chanteuse Cristina is brilliant. While intended as pastiche, the loud, chiming keyboard loops, and pounding bass, mixed with endearingly cutesy-cum-paranoid vocals make this one of the genuine heavy hitters of the record.The band does deign to appear on the record eventually, contributing a decent remix of ‘Blue Jeans’ off their 2002 LP Light and Magic and a cover of R&B star Tweet’s club smash ‘Oops (Oh my)’. The Roland drum machines are ditched in favor of some incendiary live drumming, with fuzzbox guitars brought to the forefront. Helen Marnie’s and Mira Aroyo’s generally wispy vocals are treated with distortion to give the affair a refreshingly aggressive edge. While some fans have taken issue with the song’s execution, I found it to be a fascinating new direction for the band’s sound, one which would later be fully fleshed out with 2005’s Witching Hour.
The industrial-lite dance rhythms of Dondolo’s ‘Peng’ work quite well, and is the first truly electronic number to appear on the record. Efforts by Pop Levi, Codec and Flexor on the other hand, are pretty much standard issue electroclash; stuttering beats, overly staccato vocals and minimalism for its own sake.
A couple of selections appear to have been made solely for the cool points to be gained with such shameless name-dropping. Indie-rockers New Fast Automatic Daffodils contribute the dullest track on the record with ‘Big’ Andy Spearpoint’s unbearably slow, droning vocals match the pace of the repetitive, zero-variation beats. The original version of Lee Hazlewood’s and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’ closes out the album, but comes off as less a carefully thought-out inclusion, and more as a final grab at egotism; it’s completely incongruous among the other picks, which despite the differences in genre and style, are all spot-on club floor picks.
That, however, is minor nitpicking for an 18-track, 77 minute record. Even those minor blemishes are compensated for by smart picks like the Sacramento dance-punk group ‘!!!’. While their material of late has been rather meandering and pretentious, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the bouncy, glitzy synths of ‘Feel good hit of the Fall’. Dutch eurodance group Shocking Blue are thrown into the mix as well, with their 1969 recording ‘Send me a Postcard’. In one final concession to kitsch, the comically simplistic, but endlessly entertaining electro number ‘Teenage Daughter’ (Fat Truckers) is included; it’s hard to imagine that a heavily distorted synth rhythm overdubbed over a thick baritone repeatedly intoning ‘Teenage Daughter’ hundreds of times wouldn’t get annoying, but so far, it hasn’t.After taking into account the pretentious selections, and spot-the-subtle-Roxy Music-reference-on-the-cover pomposity, I should dock some points . But I can’t. This is a great album, on par with the Trainspotting soundtrack in terms of melding old and new so judiciously. It’s really that good.
N.B. – I originally wrote this review in Spring 2006 for the now-defunct Epinions.com website.