Phillipa (Pip) Brown AKA Ladyhawke's self-titled debut album, was originally released on 19th September 2008, a week many will remember as the week that Lehman Brothers collapsed, intensifying the chatter of financial stress around the world. The previous year had seen bands from around the globe such as Klaxons, MGMT, Hot Chip and CSS all vie for space in the newly established space on the music scene that seemed to reject guitars as its primary noise maker while not totally embracing the minimalist ethos of synthpop or electronic dance music. Whether it was New Rave or Electroclash, the keytar was threatening to make a comeback, and it seemed that young people were ready.
Among August 2008's releases were debuts LPs from Late Of The Pier ('Fantasy Black Channel') and Lady Gaga ('The Fame'). The latter sat to the side of the new scene but was not wholly unrelated, demonstrating the influence the underground youth movement had already exerted on the mainstream and the sensationalism it could bring with it. It was in this blur of mainstream and underground that 'Ladyhawke' was released in the following month, though Ladyhawke's debut single 'Back Of The Van' had been around since April, available exclusively as a download from her MySpace page or website.
'Ladyhawke' was released amid an industry that was struggling to keep pace with a rapidly changing scene and technology, and it was perhaps the familiarity offered by Ladyhawke's layered references to 1980s pop that initially drew the attention of big labels as well as fans.
On her website, in February 2008 she stated "I wanted to make music that could put a smile on people's faces and give them a feeling of nostalgia even though they may be hearing my songs for the first time. I love how music evokes memories of a certain time, I wanted to see if I could find a method of songwriting that would evoke those feelings from me on writing the song and then on the individual when listening to it for the first time."
It would be a disservice to Pip Brown to suggest that her music is purely nostalgic, retro-styled pop, recorded in order to hit a demographic. Struggling with illness in her youth, Brown spent a lot of time at home immersing herself in a world of music, her parents being musicians, this pastime was likely encouraged and nurtured. By the age of 29, when 'Ladyhawke' was released, Brown had been associated with several New Zealand and Australian alternative rock outfits, notably as guitarist with Sydney band Teenager. It wasn't until 2006 that her solo stage persona, taking its name from the 1980s fantasy film, was initiated, and by this point, Brown was clearly equally at ease with the alt-rock and pop aesthetics in a way that hadn't been championed since the 1980s. The result was cleverly crafted pop songs that clicked into soundtracks, worked on dance-floors, helped fill up all those newly bought MP3 players and regularly got played on BBC6 Music.
'Paris Is Burning' was the second single to be released by Ladyhawke, the first to get a physical release. 'Dusk Till Dawn' followed in early September before the album dropped the following week, described by Mike Orme of Pitchfork as Gwen Stefani meets Franz Ferdinand.
Pip Brown's former housemate and artist Sarah Larnach brought her illustrations for the cover of the album to life for the album's third single 'My Delirium'. The song pleased critics again, drawing comparisons to The Bangles, The Go-Gos and other female pop stars of the 80s whose work had aged well when revisited in the new century.
Though many had tried to do what Ladyhawke did, finding the lost 1980s aesthetic of high-end pop and creatively repackaging it into something new, for a new audience, it was rarely as successful as 'Ladyhawke'. Where artists such as Les Rythmes Digitales had perhaps tried to be too clever and obtuse with their '80s source material, Ladyhawke created an atmosphere of excitement with the perfect mix of fantasy, glitter and grit. The album's opening track 'Magic' was the last single to be released from the album with many critics latching on to its epic fantasy nature.
'Ladyhawke' achieved something that had already been done commercially and artistically successfully in cinema, with films such as 2001's Donnie Darko having elements that might be found in a 1980s John Hughes film juxtaposed with a darker current, perhaps supernatural, theme.
With the world's finances in disarray, the future of the album format, guitar music becoming obsolete again, and the countless other things that were shaping the end of the century's first musical decade, it was the timing of 'Ladyhawke' that was so perfect. 'Ladyhawke' represented a wonderful pop daydream into an era that benefitted from two decades of distance from reality, but equally offered something new and strangely alluring.
Ten years on, the album and its indie escapism are well worth revisiting.