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Now that there are endless new synth-tech-electro-pop-punk-Clash compilations on the racks every time you enter a record store, it's become nearly impossible to find much refreshing within the once-underground genre. Many of the key players in the movement have already moved on and are experimenting with the sounds of early house and jerky, guitar-driven no-wave. It's surprising then, that Liverpool's Ladytron -- whose debut LP, 304, still sounds refreshing amid the deluge of synth-driven artists -- manages to break no new ground with its sophomore effort, Light & Magic. Instead, the album treads along pleasant, but very familiar, territory, only occasionally teasing the listener with swatches of innovation.

Although they hail from the same city as Britain's famously Fab Four, this quartet owes more to Sheffield's Pre-Fab Four, the Human League. Aesthetically, the group is almost a facsimile of the early '80s experimentalists turned pop sensations, right down to the lads' smart haircuts. On their debut, however, they used synthesizers to construct clever rock music devoid of the Eurodisco sound with which their predecessors would become synonymous. Light & Magic is a step backward, as most of the album finds its backbeat in the new-wave sounds already exploited by artists like Adult. and the Parallax Corporation. Although tracks such as "Cracked LCD" and "Fire" may find their way into the crates of many an electro DJ, they're derivative of Parallax's work with Nancy Fortune, and the album's opener, "True Mathematics," is such a blatant rip-off of Adult. that Nicola Kuperis quite possibly could win in litigation. On a positive note, "Flicking Your Switch" is an interesting take on the new trend toward the sounds of late-'80s house music, and "Turn It On" cranks up some old-school electro beats (think Hashim) that reclaim the vocoder from posers like Daft Punk. All in all, Light & Magic is an enjoyable, if highly derivative, voyage.

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Dafydd McKaharay

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