lights little machines cover Valerie Anne Poxleitner

Canadian electro pop starlet Lights has long been one of my favourite musicians. A friend of mine sent me her debut album The Listening not long after it’s release and it actually took me a while to get into it. My music taste circa 2009 was mostly made up of rock and punk so this bubblegum synth pop was alien to me. Slowly, but surely though it grew on me until eventually I knew the album from front to back. Even since then I’ve been a huge fan, even parting with my hard earned pound to purchase not only her next few albums, but also signed merchandise. Follow up album Siberia was a much gritter, darker affair, fusing dubstep and pop to create a more mature album than it’s predecessor. Such was the success of Siberia that it prompted Lights to release an acoustic version of the album aptly titled Siberia Acoustic. Her fan base has since spread worldwide and I for one always felt she was on the cusp of massive commercial success. Little Machines marks album number three for Lights and I for one could not wait to get my hands on it.

 

Lights Artist Valerie Anne PoxleitnerTo promote Little Machines, Lights released it’s first single “Up We Go.” Musically it shares a lot of it’s genes with many tracks from The Listening. It’s an incredibly accessible pop track with hooks and singalong opportunity aplenty. In the lead up to the album’s release Lights named bold female figures such as Bjork and Kate Bush as inspirations and spoke of her yearning to just go back to enjoying herself and having fun when making music. “Up We Go” certainly sounds like the fruits of an artist enjoying her work. The track’s video is also something to be admired, a sort of elevator adventure that was all shot in just one take.
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“Muscle Memory” could well have been an experimental Kate Bush b-side. There isn’t much to the track itself save for a blocky sounding synth hook and 1980’s style reverberated drum beat. Lyrically it’s less abstract than many of  the tracks from Siberia and instead Lights has opted for a more innocent style of storytelling. “Speeding” is a steady synth pop song with an air of simplicity,  masked in a haze of laid back contentedness. One of Little Machines‘ many highlights is “Running With The Boys,” which was one of the tracks released to promote the album. Lyrically its close to her Siberia efforts, but the song itself is a brilliantly crafted pop rock ensemble that builds into a great ‘fuck everything and just have fun’ chorus.
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Little Machines‘ opener “Portal”marks an incredible shift dynamically for Lights. It’s slow paced and emotionally brooding, offering chances to break free but ignoring every one of them. Lights has become a wife and mother since the release of Siberia and this could explain the more mature sound to her music. The lyrics are pretty self reflecting, but still masked with mysterious abstractness. Lights has mostly avoided baring soul in her music. However, there are signs of her perhaps adding her experiences from her recent life changes to her songwriting in Little Machines.

 

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Lights artist Valerie Anne Poxleitner“The Same Sea” is a track I predict could be the album’s next single. It’s a sign of Lights embracing a whole new accessible angle in her music and attempting to push her efforts commercially. It has all the key ingredients of any good, infectious pop record and could slot in to the mainstream charts and feel right at home. “How We Do It” is another part of the transformation in Lights’ songwriting. It’s the sound of a woman that has now found purpose in her life and is free to express it in her music. The lyric “I want to be happy, I want to die in love/When I get the money, I’m going to burn it up” is testament of someone who has found a way to separate love and happiness from life’s more materialistic things.
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“Oil And Water” is a track that fuses dubstep with synthpop, but whereas on Siberia she would have exploded into a ‘fist in the air’ style chorus, this time around she keeps it under wraps. The absence of a big chorus actually sets a pleasant tone for the track and allows it to be more easily absorbed. “Meteorites” is one of my favourite songs from Little Machines. It essentially takes the best aspects from Lights’ previous albums: the simple pop hooks of The Listening and the powerful vocal bravery of Siberia, to create something so infectious and beautiful. At the time of writing this review it’s my most listened to track from Little Machines. The album’s closer “Don’t Go Home Without Me” gives Lights the chance to finally let loose and sing at the top of her lungs, something that many listeners of her earlier work will be more accustomed to.
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One of the reasons I’m a fan of Lights as a person rather than just a musician is her incredibly positive outlook on life. The first time I saw her play live was at a day festival called Dot To Dot which is held in three English cities. Shortly before her set I actually saw her watching one of the other bands and managed to have a chat with her. What I found most fascinating was her ability to talk to me as a person rather than a starstruck fan (which I had unashamedly become). In my opinion she’s done pop music the right way: avoiding controversy and not having to shed clothes to sell records. Young children discovering music and wanting a role model should look no further.
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Whether Little Machines becomes a commercial giant remains to be seen. In my opinion it’s her best work. It isn’t mainstream pop for mainstream pop’s sake, it’s much more expansive than that. Her love of poetry and art has resulted in one of 2014’s strongest pop albums lyrically and Little Machines has the simple pop genetics to back it up. However, Lights’ musical talents and songwriting ability deserves to be embraced by a wider audience. I would really like to see her break through.
Rating: 5/5
David Dring
Freelance writer still stuck in the 90’s.
Favourite albums; Young Americans, Hours, Out From The Vein, In Utero.