47:08 min • Self-Release (PledgeMusic) • June 11, 2013
Andrew Darley reviews
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.