Marnie \ Crystal World [TWI 1156 CD]
Crystal World is a glacial 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 Reykjavik in August 2012, Crystal World comprises ten original songs written while Ladytron are on hiatus. Like Iceland itself the album evokes the collision of two spheres. "I knew I wanted it to be quite pop and song based," Helen explains. "I also wanted it to be more personal and emotive, which I hope comes across. It's not a dance album. Parts of it are serene and beautiful, others are dark. It's like a landscape that changes over time."
Pulsing lead track The Hunter was issued as a single in May 2013, while Hearts On Fire lights a torch for dark anthemic pop. Venturing further into Crystal World, The Wind Breezes On glides atop thunderous organ flows, while Gold inspires feelings of melancholy and hope in equal measure. At nearly eight minutes, Submariner is an epic tale to warm the coldest of hearts, and reflects an enduring love of the sea.
"When I think of the sea," says Helen, "I think of my childhood. I spent a lot of time by water, exploring and having fun. One side of my family hails from the east coast of Scotland, so that's the sea I'm generally referring to. I relate to it because it was a big part of my life. Sometimes I feel enclosed by cities, and so the sea is the getaway in my head."
"I started out playing classical piano, and was introduced to synthesisers when Ladytron formed. The keyboard is what comes naturally to me, and synthesisers can create a lot of warmth and depth and dirt. They're extremely versatile, but with Crystal World I knew I wanted real piano on some of the tracks. It's quite prevalent on Submariner, and on Gold as well."
Digipack cover design by Laura Hussey. Images by Lisa Devine, assisted by Mack Photography.
1. The Hunter
2. We Are the Sea
3. Hearts On Fire
4. Violet Affair
5. The Wind Breezes On
7. High Road
CD available now for £10.00 from LDDC mailorder.
"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, and is for all intents and purposes the sixth Ladytron album. Single The Hunter is a rippling bit of Moroder by Hunt, Violet Affair is a slightly sullied chanson, and Hearts On Fire a sprawling, M83-ish set closer. If Crystal World isn't a one-off, she could 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, she has plenty of" (Pitchfork, 08/2013)
"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" (Glasgow Herald, 10/2013)
"Some have 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. Crystal World showcases a considerable songwriting talent, and as the album's melodic hooks start to work their way in the decade-plus of experience that Marnie and producer/bandmate Daniel Hunt have at making electronica sound soulful becomes apparent" (The Arts Desk), 08/2013
"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. 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. 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 and raised 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" (The List, 09/2013)
"Helen Marnie appears to be a person who's not one for letting the grass grow under her feet, and the resultant album 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 of music written on a wooden guitar. 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 depth. From the driving electro pop noir of The Hunter to the elegiac beauty of the epic seven minutes plus Submariner, the anthemic Hearts Of Fire right through to emotional hammer blow of album closer Gold, this is an album that delivers on every level. A sublime, glorious, majestic, electro pop map of the human heart" (The VPME, 06/2013)
"Recorded amongst the beautiful glacial landscapes of Reykjavik, the majority of the ten tracks on Crystal World possess a similarly Arctic quality to the Ladytron'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. 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. A consistently engaging debut which should cement her status as one of electro-pop's most enchanting vocalists" (Mimo, 08/2013)
"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 Marnie 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" (Polari, 06/2013)
"Recorded in Iceland, Crystal World captures the island's beautifully relaxed but volatile atmosphere. With Daniel Hunt in the co-producer's chair alongside Icelandic musician Bardi Johannsson, it will inevitably draw comparisons with Ladytron as half the band were 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. While this isn't 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 Mama Cass being 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 the album, the vibrant electropop single that Ladytron never quite got round to releasing. Simply gorgeous and delectably glacial" (The Electricity Club, 06/2013)
"Extraordinary. Taking a step away from Ladytron, Helen Marnie (along with fellow Tronite Dan Hunt as producer) has gifted us with as clean and melodic an electronic album as any released this year. Easily the most vocally pretty Marnie has ever been, and a treat from start to finish. The album rises on the strength of the songcraft, and in addition the production is surprisingly strong for what seemed like an offshoot project at the time of its conception"(Softsynth, 08/2013)
"As you'd expect, Crystal World is cerebral synth-pop not unlike that of Ladytron, if a little more commercial and personable, and lead track The Hunter has all the cosmopolitan poise you'd expect from an artist who wears kick-ass heels well. 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. A cut above most pop offerings around at the moment, and We Are The Sea positively begs to be a single." (Flipside, 07/2013)