- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The best musicians, says Ladytron’s Reuben Wu, invite listeners to develop their own interpretations of lyrics and sounds. He heeds his own advice on “Witching Hour,” Ladytron’s most recent disc, which throbs with dread-soaked layers of keyboard and nightmarish themes.

Mr. Wu, speaking by phone from the bar he owns in Liverpool, England, compares his electronic band’s newest songs to cinema that thrills audiences even when the direct meaning is never made clear. He loves “the mystery” of analyzing a track and the opportunity for his global fan base to give the song “its own unique perspective.”

He’s referring to the standout track “Destroy Everything You Touch,” which marries glistening female vocals and damning accusations to a swirling, decadent dance-floor stomp. “Destroy everything you touch, today / Destroy me / This way … Everything you touch / You don’t feel / Do not know / What you steal.”

Depending on the listener’s mood, stage of life and political leanings, the song could be a screed aimed at environmental assassins, warring governments or the neighborhood bully.

Area fans can develop their own theories tomorrow night at the 9:30 Club, when Ladytron plays the first date of its 15-date North American spring tour. The show, like the record, will keep listeners engaged but unnerved.

“Witching Hour” is thematically “a lot darker” than Ladytron’s first two records, Mr. Wu admits. The band follows “Destroy Everything You Touch” with the ominous opening lines of “International Dateline”: “Woke up in the evening / To the sound of screaming / Through the walls it was bleeding / All over me.”

The mood darkens even further during “Soft Power,” a pairing of synthetic, Arctic-chilled beats and apocalyptic lyrics. Vivid juxtaposition appears in nearly every line: “Broken glass is luxury / Friendly fires are alchemy / Daylight is the enemy.”

Mr. Wu credits the record’s confident, if clearly discomforting, imagery to the band’s home base in Liverpool. Better known as the birthplace of the Beatles, Liverpool is “a great place to be creative,” Mr. Wu says. He finds its persistently overcast weather “quite conducive to writing music.”

“Witching Hour” also benefits from 12 months of international touring in support of the band’s second CD, “Light and Magic.” Mr. Wu says the experience of playing nearly nonstop with Helen Marnie, Mira Aroyo and Daniel Hunt “helped us gel” as a band. The yearlong collaboration was the “main shaping force of the sound on the new album.”

Despite all of its dark edges, “Witching Hour” showcases the newfound depth of the band’s musical aspirations and its ability to transform its adoration for pulsing electronic beats into focused compositions, particularly on “The Last One Standing” and “Weekend.”

There’s one more sign of Ladytron’s evolution: Mr. Wu and his band mates will dramatically reinterpret older songs during the spring tour. So much so, he says, that the reworked versions represent the “real” songs, relegating the album tracks to “secondary” status.

• • •

Monday’s performance by the Gris Gris at the Black Cat will either be a tie-dye burst of searing psychedelia or a shambling, speaker-blowing mess. The outcome depends on the band’s choice of songs from its second album, “For the Season,” a sprawling revival of ‘60s-era San Francisco rock and blues.

Fronted by Greg Ashley, the Gris Gris hang out on the corner of Noncomformist Boulevard and Whacked-Out Lane. The neighborhood occupied by Mr. Ashley and his crew accepts all forms of sounds: atonal blasts that sound like warm-ups for an elementary school band recital (“Ecks Em Eye”), sun-baked, echoing guitars (“Cuerpos Haran Amor Extrano”) and the charming pairing of a mandolin and accordion (“Mademoiselle of the Morning”).

The 12 tracks on “For the Season” present a disjointed view into the band’s ‘hood. It’s hard to know if Mr. Ashley wants the audience to righteously worship the kinetic guitar solos and then chuckle at his cloying memories of a boyhood love. However, with the right concentration and presentation onstage, the Gris Gris could transform its cosmic karma into a memorable Monday night show.

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