December 24, 2014 Lights – Little Machines (Album Review)
Taking a page from Stevie Wonder and picking up every instrument in the studio, Canadian singer songwriter Valerie Poxleitner Bokan, also known as Lights, creates a sprawling, aural masterpiece on her third, full-length album, Little Machines. Lights’ 2009 debut, The Listening, was a collection of keyboard heavy tracks incorporating dance and house music touches that launched her career with an upbeat slab of smart, danceable tracks. This was followed by the EP entitled Acoustic, which was just that. A stripped down, five song jaunt showcasing the singer’s versatility as she strayed away from the heavily produced sound on her debut. 2011’s Siberia followed with more tunes that would be the perfect soundtrack for a rave, with some low key, mid-tempo tracks sprinkled in for good measure. In a bold move, Lights’ next release was Siberia Acoustic, in which the multi-talented performer re-worked Siberia so that it left the club and nestled itself perfectly in a Seattle coffee house.
This year’s Little Machines, a nod to the heavy use of synthesizers, kicks things off with “Portal,” a melancholy track featuring Lights singing forlorn lyrics over electronic pulses and a steady, bass beat. Right off the bat, Lights lets the listener know that electro-pop with dance grooves does not have to be about boys and girls simply cutting a rug. Deep, mysterious, challenging lyrics are a mainstay here. The track “Running With The Boys” follows the opener and this is electro-pop perfection. Featuring mid-tempo verses sung over a simple, joyful mix of light guitars, echo effects, and crashing drums, Lights hits all the right notes with fun, optimistic vocals, reveling in carefree memories as she sings, “just like the old times.” Next, single “Up We Go” is a sugary, fast-paced, electric ditty with a hook that grabs the listener with an enthusiastic melody, featuring New Age guitars that are set back just enough so that they are hard to ignore, but do not overshadow the singer’s incredibly energetic vocals. “Same Sea” follows, taking a turn away from the anthematic, go-go pulse of “Up We Go,” with a straight up dance track featuring a heavy dose of synth and multi-layered vocals. This track takes the best of Madonna and Lady Gaga and mashes them up into an irresistible mix.
Moving along, “Speeding” and “Muscle Memory” exemplify electro-pop in its highest form. With catchy melodies, a barrage of synthesizers, electronic drums, and swirling effects, Lights sings the melodies with the confidence of an artist with numerous number ones under her belt. These tracks sound like what is probably down the road for Lorde, as it features a similar style, but lacks the teen angst, and instead of sounding like someone who knows better, the lyrics reflect the thoughts of a person wise beyond their years.
“Oil and Water” takes the record in a new direction with an atmospheric drone, featuring lyrics questioning the veracity of a long distance relationship. Here, Lights takes a step back from the infectious grooves, and does so succinctly, not mixing words or over-using metaphors as she sings, “Gone when you get stuck/Sleepin’ when you wake up/Lover on the other coast/No one said it would be this hard.” Upbeat dance tracks are featured throughout the remainder of the album, save for the closer, “Don’t Go Home Without Me.” Like The Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four,” it’s a bouncy pop song professing an undying love and great anticipation for an everlasting relationship. Here, Lights sings about her perfect present and predicts an even better future – “Oh, its amazing that you’re here/So alone I would be/And we’ll go out in style/Don’t go home without me.”
Little Machines is the perfect soundtrack for lounging or dancing, as the grooves are ever-present but not so over the top that they would only seem to fit on a crazed dance floor. Recorded with vintage ’80s analog synthesizers, the warmth is felt throughout and it is easy to see Lights has found her stride on Little Machines. Lights shows that she can make listeners want to move, but first they must pause and take a minute to digest the smart lyrics and complex rhythms and melodies. Having run the gamut from pure dance numbers to acoustic singer/songwriter perfection, Lights is clearly a force to be reckoned with, as she not only has the ability to craft a wide variety of music, she does them all well. CrypticRock gives Little Machines 5 out of 5 stars.