Marnie is the immensely-talented lead singer, and one of the songwriters and keyboardists, of the popular electronic pop outfit Ladytron. This album — her solo debut — was produced by Ladytron’s Daniel Hunt, along with the Icelandic musician Barði Jóhannsson, and so it sounds an awful lot like a Ladytron record. And that, of course, is a very good thing. But, don’t worry, Ladytron has not broken up. Marnie was simply writing a lot of songs in between Ladytron albums and decided to use her vacation time to make a solo record. And Ladytron fans will be very glad that she did, as this is one of her most vital and enticing works to date.
You may or may not be aware that Marnie is Scottish, but Crystal World was actually made in Reykjavik, Iceland. It was fan-funded through Pledge Music — she achieved 100% of her goal in just 3 days — where Marnie explained why she recorded in Iceland: “Lyrically, the album is expansive, but the Elements do play a part in much of the record, with the sea being particularly dominant and reoccurring. So, with the sea in mind and beautiful landscapes, I decided to fly to Iceland to record in a studio there. The light is so pretty, the air fresh, the sea vast, that I thought it would be the perfect setting to record.”
Crystal World opens with the stunning first single, “The Hunter,” which is slightly less synthy and slightly more electro than Ladytron. It’s also somewhat darker than most of Ladytron’s music in my opinion. “Dry your eyes friend then make a wish then say goodbye,” Marnie sings during the haunting chorus. She might call herself “the hunter” during said chorus, but she doesn’t much sound like one during most of the song. Quite the contrary, there’s an air of fragility about it — you’d think she was on the run from hunters herself — and it’s beautiful and breath-taking.
“The Hunter” is followed by “We Are The Sea,” which was co-produced by Alessandro Cortini. (It’s the sole track that he worked on.) With layers and layers of sound, it’s easily one of the richest songs I’ve heard all year and it’s both dazzling and intoxicating. Every time I listen to it I feel like I’m falling under some kind of spell and I always feel like I’m listening to it for the first time because I hear new sounds each and every time. Its punchy beats, dark synth and fuzzy bass are immediately noticeable, but there’s much more buried beneath the surface to be discovered. You have to dig deep to find some of it, but if you like your music lush and hypnotic then you’ll find it immensely rewarding.
If you’re a fan of Ladytron’s more anthemic tracks then you’re sure to fall quickly in love with “Hearts on Fire,” which evokes Ladytron’s “Destroy Everything You Touch” without ever quite sounding like she’s trying to re-create the much beloved classic. Meanwhile, the moody, synth-heavy “Violet Affair” immediately recalls Ladytron’s later day work, though it also feels like it owes an awful lot to The Doors of all bands with its organ and general psychedelic vibe.
Another highlight is “Sugarland,” which packs a mighty, thumping beat and other insistent percussion, making it the album’s most abrasive track, a proverbial shock to the system, though I mean that in a good way. While the sonorous beats are entrancing, and the song has a general opiate-like vibe, they also jolt one’s system and ensure that you’re paying attention, not unlike a shot of adrenaline to the heart to snap one out of a drug overdose. During the second half of the song, sirens can even be heard off in the distance. To that end, the track also has layers of dark synth, which give it an ominous vibe that makes one feel like something very bad is going to happen.
“Do you believe in love or rock ‘n’ roll,” Marnie asks during the bittersweet chorus of “High Road,” arguably the most poetic and romantic track on the album. “Be my baby tonight,” she sings repeatedly throughout the highly singable song. Sometimes it sounds like an innocent invitation but at others it sounds like a demand. Suffice to say it’s not a lovey dovey affair, as we’re never sure if the person the song is directed at feels similarly; it could very well be from the point of view of a stalker.
The most ambitious and truly epic track on the album is “Submariner,” which is just over seven and a half minutes in length. “I hold your hand and it shivers right down to the base of my spine,” Marnie sings dreamily during the quirky love song, which would seem to be about a girl who falls in love with someone who goes off in a submarine. “You sold your soul to the deep blue sea,” begins the dizzying chorus, which makes you wonder if she isn’t deliberately trying to give you vertigo. One thing is for certain — the vivid final third of the track takes you on an adventure that could very well make you feel seasick with ambient ocean sounds and submarine-like bleeps and blips lurking just below its sometimes shiny and often gloomy synths. It’s the greatest journey on an album of journeys that take you everywhere from the most desolate parts of Iceland to the warmest parts of the human heart.
Crystal World is a true masterpiece, a magnus opus on par with any of the amazing albums Marnie has ever made with Ladytron. A grand statement? Perhaps. But it’s entirely true. Without ever coming across like she’s being a show off, it proves that she is one of the most important and inspired “electronic” musicians to ever live. It takes a truly brilliant artist to craft catchy pop songs that also feel whimsical and experimental and Marnie pulls it off perfectly time and time again. These songs are exquisitely painted, using more colors than a Crayola 64 pack, and each is a crowning achievement.