They may not destroy everything they touch, but Ladytron make for frosty, empty dance floors flanked on all sides by people with perfect bone structure and quicksilver blood. Or, at least, it sounds a lot like that listening to their fifth LP, Gravity the Seducer. Chilled just to the point where you can definitely taste the beginnings of freezer burn (which even they seem aware of, having given one of their new tracks the almost certainly tongue-in-cheek title “Melting Ice”), the dozen brief songs that make up the album are uniformly sleek, polished like a summer skyline, and stop just short of making duckface for the camera. It’s a good look, and often feels like the wraithlike counterpart to the filthy-gorgeous material culled together for the Ryan Gosling-as-avenging-savior avant action film Drive.
Ladytron has often struck me as a more dilettante version of M83, with less discipline but, perhaps consequently, more surprising high points (not just the insta-classic “Destroy,” but also the shuffling, introverted anthem “Ghosts” and the tart, taunting “Re:Agents”). From its characteristically blissed-out opening track, “White Elephant,” through its pink sunrise-hued epilogue, “Aces High,” Gravity the Seducer is by some measure more focused than Ladytron’s previous efforts. Or a little more fatigued. It’s sometimes a little hard to tell when the music is so resolutely detached and android-vague. Frontloaded with songs that have been released for months, Gravity the Seducer almost seems to re-energize itself in a closed circuit. “Mirage” and “Ace of Hz,” a mere two songs apart, are so identical in form and function that it would almost seem disingenuous to tag them “theme” and “variation.” (A third song in the opening sequence, “Ritual,” is written in the same key signature as the other two: D minor. The effect isn’t just alienating, it’s almost barren.)
Lead vocalist Helen Marnie’s work can frequently seem as though it’s as deliberately feckless as the band’s most anemic compositions, but it would be more accurate to say she seals the deal, like that one detail on a Halloween costume that elevates the entire ensemble from jerry-rigged to genius. The skittering “Ambulance” would seem simply airless as an instrumental, but Marnie’s lightly lilting refrains are like a dose of helium. In “White Gold,” her voice is multi-tracked to almost Björkian effect, and on “90 Degrees,” her echoing lines are allowed to recede into the warm layers of synth-pop. It’s in these moments that Gravity the Seducer feels weightless in the best sense.