It's difficult to ignore the almost ABBA-perfect aesthetic symmetry of Liverpudlian art-rockers Ladytron. Like their sleek Swedish forebears, they have a streamlined guy/girl schematic, with synth/keyboard architects Reuben Wu and Daniel Hunt establishing the sonic scaffolding for vocalists Mira Aroyo and Helen Marnie to skillfully ascend. And you can watch their skyscraper loom taller through the years on their recent anthology Best Of Ladytron: 00-10, and then culminate in their latest textural masterpiece Gravity the Seducer. The band's attention to detailed design is unmistakable.
Which shouldn't be so surprising, says Wu, since he and Hunt both started out as designers by trade. While his partner worked in graphic design, Wu studied the industrial side of the field at Hallam University in Sheffield. "Then I went on to do a post-grad thing, and this was while Ladytron was in its early stages and we were just doing it as a hobby," he says.
What, exactly, did Wu design? "Medical things, delivery systems, two-wheeled vehicles like scooters, even asthma inhalers," says the musician, who also created a plastic vodka shot-glass holder that prevents belligerent revelers from injuring each other with the wooden-plank ones. "That was my background, and since leaving design and doing music, I've traveled all over the world. And it's been funny, finding my products that I designed around the world — there was a moped thing that I designed, and they're everywhere now, in London, Australia, Dubai, even the Netherlands. So it's nice to see another one of your babies running around."
The Moog/Korg/Roland-favoring musician — who also moonlights as a globetrotting DJ — applies his designer's eye to photography, as well. It began as a desire to capture Ladytron's touring life. But now the shutterbug carries at least three old-school cameras everywhere to capture striking, disparate images, like the surreal landscapes from his recent Arctic expedition that he's just published as the book Svalbard.
"We're all very visually aware of stuff, so everything that we do, we think of very carefully. We actually started off very DIY — we were doing all the artwork ourselves, we were designing all of our own merch, and we set up all of our own shows because no one knew how to set up knackered old synthesizers. We were probably the only band around using them at the time, other than a few exceptions."
Where this has led the quartet is truly stunning. Gravity the Seducer — unlike their previous four albums — was penned like a Pink Floyd epic, as something to be appreciated as a whole, from beginning to end, with no thought of ever performing it live. So it caroms casually from the sci-fi-spooky "Moon Palace" through a fairy-gossamer "Transparent Day" and Noh-theater-exotic "Ambulances" to the straightforward Goth-rocker "Ace Of Hz." "With this record, we really wanted to delve into layers and sounds, and really get them perfect."
And while Wu says the album is more spacious and cinematic than other works, he also sees it as a lot warmer. "We were actually writing Gravity as normal people," he says. "We weren't on the road, we hadn't been touring for a good year. And so we were able to reflect on our experiences of the last 10 years, and put that into this record."