Ladytron | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Even if your first album is solid from beginning to end, burying the sweetest spot 14 tracks deep takes balls of steel. But that's where the ubercoy "Ladybird" shows up on Ladytron's 2001 debut, 604, a disc that for my money remains the gold standard on the neo-new wave market to this day. Its perfect, crystalline synth pop, spun-sugar sweet and lighter than air, has withstood my best efforts to overplay it into oblivion, and the pairing of continental ice queen Mira Aroyo with Albionic ingenue Helen Marnie still sounds like the most brilliant no-brainer ever. Way ahead of the electroclash curve, the band was up to other mischief by the time the trend crested, rocking the dance floor harder and heavier on 2002's Light & Magic. The record didn't measure up to 604, but its best track, the ominous, assaultive "Startup Chime," foreshadowed the daemonic charge of their next full-length, this year's long-delayed Witching Hour (Rykodisc). It's their darkest, most propulsive work yet, laced with creepy, ethereal menace, its frosty charm further foregrounded and its indie-pop backbone protuding through the layers of rubbery synthetic flesh. Is this one as good as 604? Well, no. But it's a damn fine record, and Ladytron deserve credit for neither repeating themselves nor falling silent in the face of that intimidating achievement; if only My Bloody Valentine had been so brave after Loveless. This is a DJ set by Aroyo and programmer-keyboardist Reuben Wu, who's been known to throw down anything from N.W.A to Sonic Youth between the electro and techno cuts; the band's Web site promises a full tour next year. Brad Owen opens. Thu 11/17, 10 PM, Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140 or 312-559-1212, $12 in advance, $15 day of show.

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