In the end, Ladytron may be their own best critics: "This is not real, but it will deal/with this thing between tonight and tomorrow," murmurs

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Plastic Fantastic

Ladytron synthesize the new New Wave for a post-everything world.

In the end, Ladytron may be their own best critics: "This is not real, but it will deal/with this thing between tonight and tomorrow," murmurs a girlish, indeterminately Euro voice on Light & Magic's icy title track. Indeed, Liverpool's most recently crowned fab foursome seem to make music meant mainly for posing coolly in a dank German disco or at an art-school loft party, studiously ignoring all suitors in bad shoes.

They are also the ones who said, famously, "Baby, now you look like a Xerox of yourself"a phrase turned back on them by doubters who claim the group's greatest achievement is in merely feeding the essence of Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, and Human League into some clever in-studio copy machine for a new generation of context-starved international hipsters.

In fact, the groupEnglish friends Daniel Hunt and Reuben Wu, Scot Helena Marnie, and Bulgarian export Mira Aroyoshun all talk of movements, genres, or any kind of media-appointed scene-queen crown. Having started their own love affair with synth-pop revivalism at a time and place where it was the farthest thing from coolwhen the band formed in 1998, Liverpool was basically "a lot of people getting stoned and listening to Beefheart," says Aroyothe four are determined not to be bunched in with the other trendy-come-latelies currently working their angular eye shadow, Casio beats, and bored, vocodered vocals in clubs from Brooklyn to Berlin.

Instead, after accumulating the early cred with NME Singles of the Week "He Took Her to a Movie" and "Playgirl," the ensuing EP, Commodore Rock, and 2001's seminal long-player, 604, the band chose instead to record their much-anticipated follow-up in . . . Los Angeles. The land of silicone, sitcoms, and star walks? Aroyo explains: "We wanted something different. Try listening to Joy Division riding in an open-top car in L.A.it's great to sort of take songs from the rain and put them in the sun and see what happens. And L.A. is just a really weird place, nothing like England in any wayit's the most foreign place I've ever been to. It was sunny, but not necessarily comfortably sunny, you know what I mean? It's like a David Lynch place."

Regardless, something clicked; Light & Magic hit the U.S. in September 2002 and was promptly gobbled up by press and hungry n-electro devotees alike. Its disco-dark-wave nightmare of echo-chamber female vocals, glacial synths, and quotably world-weary lyrics"They only want you when you're 17, when you're 21 you're no fun/They take a Polaroid and let you go, say they'll let you know, so come on"were as far removed from the heart-on-their-ringer-tee-sleeve emoters, mall-punk revivalists, and other current rock movements as they were from the house-diva warblings of main-floor dance music.

Even as the retro-cannibalizing frenzy of the electroclash movement subsides, leaving behind little more than a rash of ironic hairdos and a few memorable singles, Ladytron continue to thrive, packing venues on their current American tour and returning for a full U.K./Europe go-round in the summer and fall. It may be because they've attempted to make themselves genuine album artists in the vein of Felix da Housecat and Peaches, rather than fashion-first poster children like W.I.T. or Cr譥 Blush; but it cannot be discounted that they also forgo one of the biggest elements (some would say the biggest) of the scene: the look. The entire band has expressed from the beginning their extreme disinterest in the visual elements of the '80s; they prefer to dress starkly onstage because, as Hunt has said before, "People don't take this music seriously [if] they associate it with people dressed as pirates."

That may be true, but any kind of revivalism seems, by its very existence, earmarked for re-obsolescence; even in sober uniform, how much longer can "this thing between tonight and tomorrow" extend its stay? Then again, it may be dangerous to underestimate them; Ladytron's retroactively robotic, guitar-free sound might have more to do with the future of music than its detractors let on. As they speak-sing on "Startup Chime": "Technology is there to cure yourself/This is where it has to start."

lgreenblatt@seattleweekly.com

 
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