- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

The guitar may be the most common icon of pop music, but plenty of musicians worship the electronic keyboard rather than a sleek six-string. The four black-clad members of Ladytron adore the sound of analog synthesizers. They're inspired by the chemistry of calculated beats, champagne-dry female voices, and the desire to propel listeners onto the dance floor, simultaneously seducing them.
The 15 tracks on "Light & Magic," Ladytron's second release, reach back to electronic music's past glory while peering into pop's future. The group's founders, Danny Hunt and Reuben Wu, and vocalists Miro Aroyo and Helen Marnie ignore the impulse to smash beats-per-minute world records or dazzle audiences with simplistic, joyless hooks.
The British band's maturity materializes in the midtempo pacing and lyrics left open for interpretation. "They only want you when you're 17 / When you're 21 / You're no fun / They take a Polaroid / And let you go," Miss Marnie recites in the hushed tones of a fashion model who's been dumped for the next best thing. Or is she a commentator admonishing pop culture for its overemphasis on youth? Or on an even darker level, is she a former porn star or victim of pedophilia? You'll be able to decide for yourself when the Liverpool-based band plays its second-ever U.S. tour date Monday at the 9:30 Club.
The dual emphasis on sounds and ideas helps pull Ladytron away from a clump of electronically minded bands in the United Kingdom. The group's debut recording, 2001's "604," triggered waves of positive reaction from fans of "electro" music. The response led to comparisons with synth pioneers Joy Division, Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode.
"The frustration of the last record was that all people ever spoke to us about was the '80s, and we only saw that as just a fragment of the sound," Mr. Hunt told CMJ New Music Monthly magazine.

Twitching with angry energy, the Jam epitomized the "mod" movement and inspired disenfranchised youth to dress in suits and skinny ties and express themselves through music. Twenty-six years after founding the hugely influential group, Paul Weller slows the tempo but retains the impassioned lyrics on his most recent solo disc, "Illumination." He'll perform songs from the album, plus gems from the Jam and his follow-up group, the Style Council, during a visit Wednesday to the 9:30 Club.
Released in the United States on Jan. 14, "Illumination" finds Mr. Weller mining the rugged soul of past releases along with a blend of folk, psychedelic and Indian influences. Mr. Weller, one of the most revered musicians from England during the last three decades, collaborated with top talent from the past 10 years. Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer from Oasis pitch in, as do members of Ocean Colour Scene and The Stereophonics.

More scrutinized than any other musical genre, hip-hop gets bashed for the materialism and violence portrayed in the lyrics of its top-selling artists. But the critics often neglect to recognize the performers who don't chase MTV's buzz-seeking spotlight. The politicized, socially conscious rappers of today, such as Common and Talib Kweli, take their cues from KRS-One (Kris Parker).
Like a modern-day prophet, Mr. Parker observes and scrutinizes society's ills racism, the drug trade, black-on-black violence from atop an urban tenement. He brings the knowledge of a higher power to people in words and beats they can understand.
Alternately known as "the blastmaster" or "the teacher," Mr. Parker doesn't merely question authority. Since 1987, he's been breaking it down to a molecular level, analyzing and rebutting it until there's no doubt he's fulfilling the promise of his stage name: Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. His next lessons for loyal Washington audiences begin tonight at the 9:30 Club.
A master of substance and style, Mr. Parker delivers his message in clever couplets tucked in a slamming soundtrack rightly known as the "boom bap." The title of his most recent disc, "Spiritual Minded," reflects a closer partnership with his Lord and a gospel-music flavor. As long as KRS-One records and tours, hip-hop will never lose its righteous core.

Forget about whispering sweet nothings to your Valentine during tomorrow night's show by J. Mascis and the Fog at the Black Cat. Instead of heart-shaped chocolates, think big, foamy ear plugs as the gift of choice. Mr. Mascis, the former Dinosaur Jr. frontman, remains a reticent figure offstage. But once he's plugged in, "amplification" doesn't come close to describing the sonic chaos that erupts during a headlining set.

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