Ladytron Ride The New New Wave

English quartet updates synth-pop sound, mines retro-futurist territory.

They got their name from a Roxy Music song, they wear outfits modeled after a 1971 sci-fi flick and they reference more than three decades of music with their organically brewed lo-fi synth-pop.

Liverpool, England, quartet Ladytron are either musical visionaries or a glimpse at an alternate reality where the world took a drastically different sonic turn — but they're refreshing either way.

With the release last month of their debut album, 604, Ladytron made their first big dig into U.S. territory, following last year's Commodore Rock EP. Led by Daniel Hunt, the band's sweeping electronic melodies conjure images of the Human League filtered through a Devo automaton and emitted by a Kraftwerk pocket calculator. It's enough to get you labeled a retro-futurist nostalgic for the days of robotic pop — a notion Ladytron haven't exactly discouraged.

"We've brought it on ourselves," Hunt said, laughing. "So, we've got no problem with it. The only thing that would concern us is if we were perceived as style over content."

He insisted, however, that the band is not a throwback to any era. Their sound, he explained, is simply a result of their nearly exclusive use of keyboards and synthesizers when writing songs and performing.

"Our music is based more on the sounds we get from our instruments than any desire to recreate the past," he said. "We consider ourselves a modern band."

Ladytron owes its existence, for the most part, to founding member and songwriter Hunt. "I was telling people I was in a band called Ladytron even before there really was a band," he said.

The band only became a reality after Hunt and longtime pal Reuben Wu converged in Liverpool with Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo to establish the full lineup in 1998. They recorded their first single, the story-song "He Took Her To a Movie" (RealAudio excerpt), for 50 pounds (about $90), and almost instantly a fan base was born. So, too, were a number of misconceptions.

Not that Ladytron aren't partially to blame. They had costumes designed — solid black uniforms to go with the naturally black hair of all four members — based on outfits from the 1971 film "The Andromeda Strain." The album's title is a reference to the computer error code in the film: a variation on "601," meaning "unable to analyze."

"We just thought it was funny," said Hunt of the outfits. "We thought we were becoming this cartoon band, so we just sort of played on that a bit."

The song title "Commodore Rock" is a nod to Rob Hubbard, a man infamous in some circles for composing 8-bit music for Commodore 64 computer games in the '80s.

"That's part of the humor on the record," said Hunt. "There are jokes on there, things that we've deliberately slipped in because of people's perception of us, and that was probably one of them."

In reality, Ladytron owe as much to contemporary electronic-pop band Broadcast as to any '80s synth group. Although he claimed there are as many influences on 604 from the '60s as from the '80s, Hunt said that his compatriots had nailed almost precisely the same sultry cinematic grooves on last year's The Noise Made By People that he initially wanted Ladytron to purvey.

"That was actually a conscious decision to move away from that, because I thought, 'They've already done it,'" he said of Broadcast.

Instead, the more upbeat brand of electro-pop on 604 came into being, as spotlighted on modern new wave classics such as the current single, "The Way That I Found You" (RealAudio excerpt) and the techno-funk groove of "Mu-Tron" (RealAudio excerpt), and in the end, as Hunt stressed, it's the music that's paramount.

"This is the band that I've always dreamed of."