The Electricity Club
Ladytron's Helen Marnie has finally released her long awaited debut solo album Crystal World. Going under the moniker Marnie, the project has, like recent releases by IAMX and Kelli Ali, been crowd funded by PledgeMusic.
A new music business model which allows an artist complete independence, it also enables fans to become involved in the process with opportunities to purchase exclusive memorabilia but most importantly, hear the new material before anyone else.
Marnie told her Pledgers: "I am humbled that so many of you had faith in me and were patient when the project was dogged by delays... I am proud of what we have achieved. This is just a small example of the power people have when they come together".
Recorded in Iceland, Crystal World captures the island's beautifully relaxed but volatile atmosphere... after all, volcanoes look serene when dormant but when they erupt! With Daniel Hunt in the co-producer's helm alongside Icelandic musician Barði Jóhannsson, Crystal World will inevitably draw comparisons with Ladytron as half the band are involved in its making. But the first thing to be noticed is how much lighter and brighter this album is than anything the quartet have ever done. The high density brooding and gothic tensions of Velocifero and Witching Hour are largely absent, indicating that the darker perspectives of Ladytron come from Mira Aroyo and Reuben Wu. While this album is not quite Saint Etienne, the thunderstorm that was occasionally Ladytron has cleared for now, allowing for some fresh air to enter and a warm front to move in.
Certainly classic pop tendencies are apparent with ABBA and Mana Cass being the obvious influences while Marnie's love of contemporary synthpop act and fellow Weegies Chvrches has also played its part. Opening track "The Hunter" is a tremendous calling card for Crystal World, the vibrant electropop single that Ladytron never quite got round to releasing. It is simply gorgeous and delectably glacial. "We Are the Sea" takes to a steadier tempo and pulses along like one of Chvrches' recent offerings. It hits with a magical chorus that is almost like The Hollies as whirring synths do battle while the closing string machine recalls Dindisc-era OMD.
More vintage string machine layers colour "Hearts on Fire", its structure possibly a cousin to atmospheric songs such as "White Elephant" and "Ace of Hz" from Gravity the Seducer, an album that saw Marnie assert her stamp vocally more than any other Ladytron album. But with her distinctive voice, even on Violet Affair which is musically as far from Ladytron as one can possibly go with its soulful Summer of Love feel, thoughts hark back to the last Ladytron album although her pristine Mamas & The Papas harmonies do make it more Kópavogur Dreaming than Destroy Everything You Touch.
Electronic bass propels "The Wind Breezes On" and could be Marnie's "Love Is a Stranger" but her higher register larynx keeps it distinct. "Sugarland" is percussively dominant and perhaps the closest Crystal World veers to the dark side as it ventures towards windier, more chilling climes with some infinite guitar textures adding some menace.
It lightens up again as some marvellous Scandipop makes its presence felt on the wonderful "High Road" before the neo-acappella "Laura". Using a variety of voice effects, Marnie switches octaves on this lush centrepiece reminiscent of Goldfrapp circa Felt Mountain before a detuned sequential passage interrupts for the coda. It's back to pop on the extended drama of "Submariner" before the climax of "Gold". This closing track could be Hurts "The Water" re-written from a female perspective as some lonely piano chords set the tone before an epic orchestration augmented by guitars and drums steadily kicks in.
Crystal World achieves Marnie's objective "to create an electronic album with more of a pop element and pristine vocals" but it is more than that. Like Marnie herself, this album is pretty. Vocally and musically expansive, it is like a dreamy Arctic escapist fantasy. The final word on Crystal World must go to the lady herself: "For now, I am going to rest my ears, but my advice to you would be to play it loud and proud!!!! I owe you. Love Marnie xxxx".
Ladytron's Helen Marnie's stunning debut solo album provides absolutely all we require from music. Intelligent, moving and suffused with the glacial beauty that has become something of a trademark it stirs the emotions, it lifts the spirits, it engages the heart and is frankly one of the finest albums we've heard in many a year. A wonderful symphonic electronic masterpiece.
Helen Marnie appears to be a person who's not one for letting the grass grow under her feet. Despite over a decade's worth of acclaim and heavy duty touring as front woman with electronic legends Ladytron, rather than taking a well-earned breather during the bands short hiatus Helen utilised the down time to record her first solo album. After an intense period of writing, she turned to the fan-funded music platform PledgeMusic to give the project wings and then relocated to Reykjavik to record the album. Released under her surname - Marnie, the resultant album Crystal World is without doubt one of the finest collection of songs you're likely to hear this year.
Crystal World once again lays bare the preposterous fallacy that electronic music somehow lacks the emotional resonance that music written on a wooden guitar has. Make no mistake this is a hugely emotive record which sees Helen step out from behind her mysterious sultry Ladytron persona and reveal herself to be a songwriter of enormous emotional depth and honesty, able to produce songs which are poetic, fragile, heartfelt and often downright heart-breakingly beautiful. In doing so she demonstrates just how inspiring, poignant, and engaging pop music can be when it's produced with such eloquence and sincerity. If this album genuinely doesn't move you then we can only conclude your sorry excuse for a soul is as withered, empty and indeed as tiny as Jeremy Clarksons' emaciated little scrotum. There is nothing for you here.
From the driving electro pop noir of "The Hunter", to the elegiac beauty of the epic seven minutes plus "Submariner", the anthemic "Hearts On Fire" right through to emotionally devastating hammer blow of album closer "Gold" this is an album that delivers on every level. It's an album that stirs the emotions, lifts the spirits, and engages the heart. Indeed to quote Leonard Lowe, if people have, "...forgotten what it is to be alive. They need to be reminded. They need to be reminded of what they have and what they can lose" then we'd suggest they could do far worse than listen to Crystal World by way of a reminder because this is sublime, glorious, majestic, life affirming pop of the highest order.
An electro pop map of the human heart with more empathy warmth and spirit than a million contrived indie lad rock 'anthems'. In fact, if any album betters this during the remainder of the year they really will have to deliver a masterpiece because this is truly fucking wonderful. Could all pop music sound this good if we barred big labels execs and the shallow A and R meddlers from the artistic process? Who knows? But we do know this – we are genuinely so very grateful that this album exists.
Crystal World is a glittering electronic pop album by Marnie, the moniker adopted by Ladytron lead singer Helen Marnie for her debut solo project, produced by Daniel Hunt and co-produced by Bardi Johannsson.
Recorded in Reyjavik, Iceland, in August 2012, Crystal World comprises ten original songs written by Marnie while Ladytron enjoy a temporary sabbatical. Crystal World evokes the collision of two spheres. In the midst of a volcanic electronic landscape, the heart and soul of Marnie merge to create a glacial pop affair. Frequently Marnie laments the sea, itself so suggestive of change and movement, a feeling which ebbs and flows across the record, luring the listener in despite the gathering emotional storm.
Focus track "The Hunter" was issued as a download single in May 2013. "Hearts On Fire" is another dark anthem with a pop chorus that builds until it's close. Venturing further into Crystal World, "Submariner" is a fragile tale to warm the coldest of hearts, while closing track "Gold" inspires just the right amount of melancholy, at the same time ending with soaring guitars and synths and an immense feeling of hope.
Once Ladytron announced their hiatus in 2012, lead-singer Helen Marnie resolved that she would utilize her time by making an album of her own, which is something she had considered for a few years. During its recording, Marnie admitted that she felt like she brought the pop component of Ladytron and wanted to explore it further on her own terms. With her demos in place, she took on fellow bandmate, Daniel Hunt, to produce the album with co-production from Barði Jóhannsson. She relocated to the scenic realm of Iceland to bring the songs where she felt they could go. The venture allowed her to make the pop-driven album, both atmospheric as it is immediate, that she geared for.
The opening cry of "The Hunter" rapidly recalls the inimitable aspect of Ladytron's music: Helen Marnie's voice. Her pristine vocals are one of the most arresting features of her band's music as well as this debut, with an ability to move effortlessly between the full-bodied and serene. It's inevitable some will see parallels between Crystal World and previous work. Nonetheless, this does not diminish the achievement of the album. Some of the band's finest moments implicitly shimmer at times, such as the pop-noir of "Discotraxx" and the mind-numbingly brilliant "Destroy Everything You Touch". However, Marnie has not tried to emulate or recreate such songs in any way; rather the pop focus of her songwriting brings to mind what made those songs unforgettable.
The album explores different styles and feelings, which is loosely tied together by the theme of nature's elements. "We Are the Sea" broods with moody synthesizers and bold drum sequences before delivering its dramatic and unpredictable chorus. She experiments with swirling '60s sounding pop on "Violet Affair" and seduces with the uplifting, sugary chorus of "High Road". What becomes clear is that writing on her own has given her space to allow her melodies to develop and voice to breathe and go new places.
The record reaches its zenith with the stunning seven-minute epic, "Submariner". Telling the story of an old man who has lived his life and can no longer find comfort or joy in the world, he decides to embrace his solitude and escape the world by living the rest of his life "in the deep blue sea". In its seven minutes, the trickling piano that opens the song takes us on a journey which maneuvers from the bouncy melody of the verses, the wistful emotion of the chorus until it reaches its epic conclusion. Marnie builds layers upon layers of synthesizers, piano and drums to evoke the sound and image going deeper into the watery depths of the sea. It's an instant of pure excitement, with hair-raising intensity and passionate lyrics, making it one of the best moments in music in 2013.
The album ends with the lush ballad of "Gold". By then, if the album has not showcased her true skill in songwriting, this song will leave you with no doubt. Marnie strips everything away to just bare piano, singing of a relationship, as tells a loved one "to make a pillow in my chest". In her interview with Polari Magazine earlier this year, the singer described the album as the colour of "midnight blue, merging into turquoise" and it's easy to hear why she chose such a strong colour to represent it. Crystal World does not wax or wane, nor attempt to prove something to its listeners; instead the songs come fully formed from someone who is certain of their identity, personally and artistically. As the final synthesizers play out, the album leaves you with the impression that if this is what Helen can create on her own, there is certainly an exciting solo career in front of her.
Crystal World is a rich and assured debut by a woman who has crafted and explored electronic music for more than a decade, a body of work which has lent itself to this album's escapist and dreamy textures. On the closing number, when she sings of the journey that she "must make on my own", one hopes that this album is merely the first step onto a very long road.
As a member of seductively austere quartet Ladytron, Helen Marnie has impressive electropop credentials. Her solo debut feels less strict, less pristine, as if all the wires and circuitry are slowly starting to melt down. Recorded in Iceland with Ladytron compadre Daniel Hunt, Crystal World doesn't quite thaw all the ice around her voice, but there is an emotional heat to "We Are the Sea" and "Violet Affair" that softens the album around the edges.
Natasha Khan's dreamier extravagances are detectable on "Gold" and "The Wind Breezes On", expansive electronic horizon-chasers that hint at existential crises. Best of all, however, are the moments where the drama becomes explicit: the increasingly ominous hush of "Laura", or the space-Goldfrapp of "High Road", sweet dreams cut with an dash of sour. It may still be touched by a synthesized chill, but Crystal World has atmosphere to burn.
Shortest review ever – fucking. extraordinary.
Oh, sorry, you want more? Context? Depth? Sigh. Alright.
Taking a step away from Ladytron, lead vocalist Helen Marnie (along with fellow Ladytronite Daniel Hunt as producer) has gifted us with as clean, lovely and melodically beautiful an electronic album as has been released this year. A simpler, more straightforward effort than the last Ladytron effort, Gravity the Seducer, Crystal World is pure pop confection but not in any kind of disposable or tossable way. To produce pop music this good, this unsullied, takes staggering talent.
The album rises on the strength of the song craft (though the production is surprisingly strong as well for what felt like an offshoot project at the time of its conception). Clever key changes or an errant note that catches the listener off guard, or slinky, sneaky melodies, harmonies or vocal dips, clever moments like the ascending, bordering-on-urgent vocal build toward the end of the chorus of "We Are the Sea" – it all conspires to create something so smart, so fun to listen to and so addictive it crashes through the speakers and shakes you by the lapels.
It's easily the most vocally pretty Marnie has ever been. In fact the totality of the album feels "pretty". The emotion Marnie gets out of each track is distinct from the more robotic persona of the Ladytron collective (compare anything on this album to say, "Seventeen"...). It shows a degree of vocal talent only hinted at before. It's a lovely, terrific discovery. From start to finish, the album is a treat, whether the traditional pop of "The Hunter" or the throbbing, propulsive "Sugarland" or the haunting, sad, "Laura" – she jumps from strength to strength. An absolute highlight on the electronic calendar.
My note: apparently the reviewer doesn't know the difference between a solo project and band's album...
If you've ever asked a band, "Where are they now?" the answer is often "on Kickstarter". The most fervent adopters of crowdfunding tend to be neither the multimillionaire likes of Amanda Palmer and Zach Braff or the scrappy starter bands that give good testimonial, but acts who've fallen off the news cycle but have kept enough of a core fanbase to pay for an album. In a sense this is rather cheery, offering established artists a graceful way into a mid- to late-career of house shows, hangouts, and folksy patronage; but for better and worse, that career becomes self-contained. While the larger campaigns tend to be the proof of the concept before a promotional storm, and the smaller ones are either lotto tickets or popular enough that the bands would probably have gotten snapped up soon anyway, the rest usually end up making their Kickstarters their entire promo and distribution cycle. The music, if it's released, exists inside walled gardens: by fans alone, for fans alone. Even Palmer's album, for all its heaped-on importance and accompanying megabytes of grumbling or praise, was mostly heard by her devotees.
Which is all to explain how what's for all intents and purposes the sixth Ladytron album was conceived, funded, and released this year through PledgeMusic to their least ado in years: there've been the standard lyric sheets and signed merch as well as shoes, a bikini, and even a 1998 Rover Cooper Mini Sport ("rust in usual areas") on offer, but almost no press. It's strange Crystal World is billed as Helen Marnie, Ladytron's lead vocalist, but between returning producer Daniel Hunt (as well as Keren Ann collaborator Bardi Johannsson) and the downcast synthscapes he creates, it'd be believable as a successor to 2011's relatively sedate Gravity the Seducer, which wasn't as zeitgeisty as Witching Hour but hardly obscure. It's a bit of a curiosity: an admitted pop move that makes no plays at a pop audience and that's mostly midtempo, like a Ladytron album composed entirely of their ballads. Even the title sounds closed off.
What's striking is how even an album so insular in distribution and in sound, is nevertheless conversant with trends; a surprising number of boxes get checked. Single "The Hunter", the most Ladytron-like track here, is a rippling bit of Moroder by Hunt; if it weren't for the gentle lilt or Witching Hour melody of the chorus, it could be anyone's sequencer mania. Vaguely political "Sugarland" is the kind of 80s pop ballad with swooning backing vocals that everyone's trying to write this year, backed with the shoegazey guitars and synths they've tried to reproduce for longer. There's a slightly sullied chanson in "Violet Affair", a reverb-swept song named "Laura" about someone close enough to Laura Palmer (after a dye job here, but demise and affairs intact), a sprawling, M83-ish set closer in "Hearts on Fire" (which doesn't actually close Crystal World; the sequencing is a bit off).
But while Crystal World's material is generally strong, and timely enough, as an album it's a subdued entry. Ladytron's best albums worked because Mira Aroyo's tracks provided a steelier, tenser contrast to Marnie's more plainspokenly ethereal sound. (This was part of the problem with Gravity the Seducer, all Marnie and all sedate.) Without a second voice, an album like this needs at least one standout single all the more; but while Marnie was responsible for those in Ladytron, there's no "Destroy Everything You Touch" or "Ghosts" here. The closest is "The Hunter", whose charms, while many, are muted; or "High Road", which is like Ladytron covering "Tainted Love" with a few riffs from "Like a Virgin" -- but not nearly as massive as that sounds; the production is far too diffident (one wonders what NIN and Velocifero's Alessandro Cortini would have done with it) and the chorus hinges on "do you believe in love or rock and roll", a lyric that'd be more convincingly delivered by basically anyone else.
If Crystal World isn't a one-off, there are basically two ways Marnie can go. She could double down on the big synthpop singles and thus launch herself into a fast-crowding field, or-- perhaps more promising-- pursue the witchier, mythier direction suggested by "The Wind Breezes On" and "Submariner", as haunting and crystalline as Marnie's best material and better matches for her florid lyricism. Fortunately, if she does, these tend to be just the sort of detours less rewarded by the hype cycle than by patrons. Those, at least, Marnie has plenty of.
Love Is Pop
My note: Also selected as Album of the Day.
Marnie is the immensely-talented lead singer, and one of the songwriters and keyboardists, of the popular electronic pop outfit Ladytron. This album — her solo debut — was produced by Ladytron's Daniel Hunt, along with the Icelandic musician Barði Jóhannsson, and so it sounds an awful lot like a Ladytron record. And that, of course, is a very good thing. But, don't worry, Ladytron has not broken up. Marnie was simply writing a lot of songs in between Ladytron albums and decided to use her vacation time to make a solo record. And Ladytron fans will be very glad that she did, as this is one of her most vital and enticing works to date.
You may or may not be aware that Marnie is Scottish, but Crystal World was actually made in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was fan-funded through PledgeMusic — she achieved 100% of her goal in just 3 days — where Marnie explained why she recorded in Iceland: "Lyrically, the album is expansive, but the Elements do play a part in much of the record, with the sea being particularly dominant and reoccurring. So, with the sea in mind and beautiful landscapes, I decided to fly to Iceland to record in a studio there. The light is so pretty, the air fresh, the sea vast, that I thought it would be the perfect setting to record."
Crystal World opens with the stunning first single, "The Hunter", which is slightly less synthy and slightly more electro than Ladytron. It's also somewhat darker than most of Ladytron's music in my opinion. "Dry your eyes friend then make a wish then say goodbye", Marnie sings during the haunting chorus. She might call herself "the hunter" during said chorus, but she doesn't much sound like one during most of the song. Quite the contrary, there's an air of fragility about it — you'd think she was on the run from hunters herself — and it's beautiful and breath-taking.
"The Hunter" is followed by "We Are the Sea", which was co-produced by Alessandro Cortini. (It's the sole track that he worked on.) With layers and layers of sound, it's easily one of the richest songs I've heard all year and it's both dazzling and intoxicating. Every time I listen to it I feel like I'm falling under some kind of spell and I always feel like I'm listening to it for the first time because I hear new sounds each and every time. Its punchy beats, dark synth and fuzzy bass are immediately noticeable, but there's much more buried beneath the surface to be discovered. You have to dig deep to find some of it, but if you like your music lush and hypnotic then you'll find it immensely rewarding.
If you're a fan of Ladytron's more anthemic tracks then you're sure to fall quickly in love with "Hearts on Fire", which evokes Ladytron's "Destroy Everything You Touch" without ever quite sounding like she's trying to re-create the much beloved classic. Meanwhile, the moody, synth-heavy "Violet Affair" immediately recalls Ladytron's later day work, though it also feels like it owes an awful lot to The Doors of all bands with its organ and general psychedelic vibe.
Another highlight is "Sugarland", which packs a mighty, thumping beat and other insistent percussion, making it the album's most abrasive track, a proverbial shock to the system, though I mean that in a good way. While the sonorous beats are entrancing, and the song has a general opiate-like vibe, they also jolt one's system and ensure that you're paying attention, not unlike a shot of adrenaline to the heart to snap one out of a drug overdose. During the second half of the song, sirens can even be heard off in the distance. To that end, the track also has layers of dark synth, which give it an ominous vibe that makes one feel like something very bad is going to happen.
"Do you believe in love or rock 'n' roll", Marnie asks during the bittersweet chorus of "High Road", arguably the most poetic and romantic track on the album. "Be my baby tonight", she sings repeatedly throughout the highly singable song. Sometimes it sounds like an innocent invitation but at others it sounds like a demand. Suffice to say it's not a lovey dovey affair, as we're never sure if the person the song is directed at feels similarly; it could very well be from the point of view of a stalker.
The most ambitious and truly epic track on the album is "Submariner", which is just over seven and a half minutes in length. "I hold your hand and it shivers right down to the base of my spine", Marnie sings dreamily during the quirky love song, which would seem to be about a girl who falls in love with someone who goes off in a submarine. "You sold your soul to the deep blue sea", begins the dizzying chorus, which makes you wonder if she isn't deliberately trying to give you vertigo. One thing is for certain — the vivid final third of the track takes you on an adventure that could very well make you feel seasick with ambient ocean sounds and submarine-like bleeps and blips lurking just below its sometimes shiny and often gloomy synths. It's the greatest journey on an album of journeys that take you everywhere from the most desolate parts of Iceland to the warmest parts of the human heart.
Crystal World is a true masterpiece, a magnus opus on par with any of the amazing albums Marnie has ever made with Ladytron. A grand statement? Perhaps. But it's entirely true. Without ever coming across like she's being a show off, it proves that she is one of the most important and inspired "electronic" musicians to ever live. It takes a truly brilliant artist to craft catchy pop songs that also feel whimsical and experimental and Marnie pulls it off perfectly time and time again. These songs are exquisitely painted, using more colors than a Crayola 64 pack, and each is a crowning achievement.
Music Is My Oxygen
Co-producing with bandmate Daniel Hunt and featuring several numbers originally written with her day job in mind, Ladytron lead vocalist Helen Marnie doesn't appear too concerned about making any giant leaps with her solo debut album, Crystal World. Indeed, recorded amongst the beautiful glacial landscapes of Reykjavik, the majority of the album's ten tracks possess a similarly Arctic quality to the Anglo-Bulgarian quartet's bewitching brand of austere synth-pop.
Lead single "The Hunter" is a gorgeously shimmering fusion of propulsive bass-lines, skittering percussion and haunting noir-pop hooks which could have been lifted from the band's 2005 breakthrough, Witching Hour. The widescreen atmospherics of "Hearts On Fire" recall the more epic moments from 2011's Gravity the Seducer, and "Submariner" simply extends their signature wave of wistful synths, shoegazing melodies and 80s-inspired electro beats for seven emotionally-charged minutes.
Produced by Nine Inch Nails' Alessandro Cortini, "We Are the Sea" is perhaps the tip of the record's iceberg, its captivating industrial electronica sound revealing new brooding textures with each listen. But Crystal World is no less spell-binding when Marnie ventures outside her comfort zone.
"Violet Affair" sees her channel the "Summer of Love" chanteuses of the 60s against a backdrop of swirling psychedelic organs and thumping rock drums. "Laura" is a gorgeously twinkling, nearly a cappella ballad reminiscent of Goldfrapp's avant-garde pop beginnings. Elsewhere, the stunning fusion of sweeping string and melancholic piano chords of closer "Gold" mines the same 'Hollywood Sadcore' vibe as Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" before building up to a deliciously dreamy synth-guitar finale.
Marnie, could have afforded to distance herself from her cult outfit just a little further. But although Crystal World doesn't quite make the most of the opportunity to test new waters, it's still a consistently engaging debut which should cement her status as one of electro-pop's most enchanting vocalists.
The Arts Desk
There have been those who have uncharitably suggested that Crystal World is in fact a sixth Ladytron album rather than the solo debut of the band's frontwoman, Helen Marnie. It's an easy, if lazy, conclusion to jump to when said album flirts with many of the same electro-dreampop calling cards and features a bandmate on production credits, but take a trip into Marnie's world and there is plenty to set it apart.
Curiously it's on the vocals that the differences become most obvious. This is still the same Marnie of the sometimes sultry, sometimes glacial persona she adopts on the best known of Ladytron's work but these songs - as well as containing some of her prettiest performances - demonstrate a fragility born of emotional depth rather than brittleness. "We Are the Sea", for example, begins with a typically deadpan performance over a pulsing, monotonous beat, but by its first chorus the song has blossomed into something warm and blissful. Later, "Laura" aches with a profound sense of loss, barely obscured by elegiac lyrics and twinkling synths.
Crystal World lets Marnie try on a few characters: the femme fatale of shimmering electropop album opener "The Hunter"; the temptress of "Sugarland"; the otherworldly priestess of "The Wind Breezes On". "Violet Affair" is a proper guilty pleasure pop song with its high school musical melody and cutesy lyrics while the seven-minute epic "Submariner" - which builds a sweet, simple riff into a mystical wall of sound - and haunting closing track "Gold" could come from another album entirely.
It's a lot of ground to cover in ten tracks and the first couple of listens could leave you a little breathless, but as the album's melodic hooks start to work their way the decade-plus of experience that Marnie and producer/bandmate Daniel Hunt have at making electronica sound soulful becomes apparent. Crystal World is an album that, while not always cohesive, showcases a considerable songwriting talent.
Electro-revivalism and crystalline future-folk on Ladytron singer solo debut
Helen Marnie has a hard job ahead of her, carrying off those press shots on her own where the stylish pan-sexual majesty of her sometime band Ladytron's pictures continued to be an otherworldly sight to behold. We're sure she'll manage, but just so the link isn't severed completely, this ice-cool selection of shimmering nouveau synth-pop has undoubtedly been bolstered by the presence of Ladytron's guiding hand Daniel Hunt in the producer's booth.
Funded via PledgeMusic, recorded in Iceland in 2012 with help from Bang Gang's Bardi Johannsson and finally released after some delays, it's a highly confident package with a real sense of its own identity, although it's probably best enjoyed as a whole without trying to dig out individually arresting radio hits. At once there's a warmth and a reserved distance to Marnie's voice, as if she were a French chanteuse singing in an echoing, empty club, and it's probably this quality which invites comparisons with Stereolab and in particular the vocal style of Laetitia Sadier on "The Wind Breezes On" and the lengthy, glistening "Submariner".
Yet the electro-revivalist milieu from which Ladytron first sprang remains the overriding musical feature here, and tracks like the opening trio "The Hunter", "We Are the Sea" and "Hearts on Fire" call to mind the bubblegum sophistication of latterday Human League, albeit without that group's harmonic Susan 'n' Joanne dynamic. The album mellows as it progresses, and those imagined French influences become more pronounced, not to mention a previously-unheard but welcome quality to Marnie's voice. Born, raised and now once more based in Glasgow, she allows a certain Caledonian buzz to enter her voice on the frosty ballads "Laura" and "Gold", possibly the most affecting tracks here. They suggest that maybe her future isn't on the dancefloor, but in the same kind of crystalline future-folk style which Alison Goldfrapp has made such a virtue of.
A silvery dream machine of an album with a sci-fi sheen on which she sounds a little like Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry's big sister.
Fans of Ladytron have been eagerly donating money to this lady's PledgeMusic fund, enabling singer Marnie to finally realize her debut solo-album. As you'd expect, Crystal World is cerebral synth-pop not unlike that of her electronic forebearers, if a little more commercial and personable.
Lead track "The Hunter" has all the cosmopolitan poise you'd expect from an artist who wears kick-ass heels well (see the sleeve) and who trills sweetly, like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. With Ladytron band-mate Daniel Hunt installed as producer and various Icelandic luminaries aiding the creative process, glistening electronic pop proves to be the preferred direction throughout this bright-eyed album, as does a big chorus or five.
If "The Hunter" is somewhat straightforward in a Dubstar, Goldfrapp and La Roux stylee, the following track blows it out of the water and turns Crystal World into a serious prospect. "We Are the Sea" is a slower, moodier stomper that positively begs to be a single, if only singles were cared about anymore (which sadly, they aren't). Like, like, like.
Sadly, the heady heights scaled by "We Are the Sea" aren't quite reached again, although the likeable vintage romp "Violet Affair" won me over quickly, while the emotive Laura eschews the usual thudding beats for atmospherics and a momentary and mildly-bewitching climax. A similar result can be heard on the album's strident closer, "Gold", also very good.
Marnie's forte, for me, is the more reflective side of her art, rather than the samey 'upfront' middle section of the album, all of which is OK but not jaw-dropping. Still, seven of the ten songs are bang on the money, all of which translates thus: Crystal World is a cut above most pop offerings around at the moment and should be deemed worthy of your attention directly.
Almost Predictable. Almost
For someone who professes to write about as much Glasgow based or related electronic music as possible, I've no real excuse for not picking up on Helen Marnie's ace debut album Crystal World until now. I love Ladytron, bought the RSD 12" of "The Hunter", but somehow overlooked the album until this week. It was released in June 2013 for God's sake! Thankfully, I've now put that right and, since the weekend, haven't stopped playing it. If you're a fan of electropop, synthpop or whatever you want to call it, you really should give this album a go.
The album opens with the brilliant "The Hunter" which is a pulsing electropop song which, inevitably I guess, brings to mind Ladytron albeit a Ladytron not frightened to put a pop sheen on things. As with most of the tracks on here, the song has a ridiculously catchy chorus and it's a really strong start to the album. It's topped however by track 2, "We Are the Sea", which is as good an electronic song as I've heard in years. Chvrches have rightly had much praise over the last couple of years but "We Are the Sea" is as good if not better as anything on The Bones of What You Believe. The chorus again is the key here - it's stunning. If you try one song from the album, try this one.
Two tracks in and you're hooked and "Hearts On Fire" keeps you there. A moodier slice of synthpop than the openers, it brings to mind Pet Shop Boys more mournful moments like Kings Cross or Behaviour which is certainly no bad thing. I will stop going on about choruses at some point as it's probably boring you now but once again, the chorus here is brilliant. Helen's ear for melody and the way her voice mixes with the electronics throughout really makes this album stand out and the opening three tracks are as good as any opening to an album as I've heard in a long time.
Next up, "Violet Affair" has a 60's feel to it, mixing a French pop style with a slight psychedelic feel to great effect before "The Wind Breezes On", slows the pace with a slice of moodier electronics that still retains a pop like feel quite marvelously.
"Sugarland" is a really cool track; it focuses more on beats and has a more driving, pulsing feel to it than anything on here bar "The Hunter". The different styles of song used throughout all work which is something worth noting. Nothing stands out in a bad way or seems out of place. "High Road" returns to the pop theme, sounding like an updated version of Yazoo, producing a perfect slice of synthpop, before "Laura" then transforms the mood again. It's a really interesting track, layered with different vocal effects and reminiscent in places of Goldfrapp's quieter moments.
The penultimate track "Submariner" is one of the album's standouts. A nearly 8 minute long electronic pop masterclass, the song is a superb example of how good electronic music can be when it's kept clean and simple and its extended outro brings to mind the poppier side of Vince Clarke's more experimental moments. We then end on "Gold", a brilliant end to a brilliant album, a track that once again has one of those choruses that you can't help but fall in love with.
Like I said at the outset, I've no idea at all how I missed out on this album when it was released. It really is a gem of an album and it's one that anyone who has even a passing interest in electronic pop should hear. There may be easy comparisons to be made with Ladytron or Chvrches but doing so misses the point. This album stands on its own and, if you do want to compare it to The Bones of What You Believe, then it is at the very least the equal of that and is deserving of as much attention as that album has had. Go and check this out right now.