Lights – PEP (Album Review)

Sassy, classy Alt-Pop icon Lights is set to deliver her sixth studio offering, the highly anticipated PEP, on Friday, April 1, 2022, thanks to Fueled By Ramen (EMG). Oh, and this is no April Fools’ joke!

Lights is definitely easier on the tongue than Valerie Anne Poxleitner-Bokan, but by any name, she is always an exceptionally talented woman. Making her debut with 2009’s The Listening, the Canadian tour de force would go on to build a name for herself with subsequent releases such as 2011’s Siberia and 2014’s Little Machines, before tackling the conceptual masterwork, 2017’s Skin&Earth, which accompanied the graphic novel of the same name. Most recently, the multi-talented singer-songwriter, guitarist, author, and illustrator’s insomnia gave birth to the 2020 instrumental Synthwave collection, How To Sleep When You’re On Fire, whose proceeds were donated to Black Lives Matter Vancouver.

Now, five years since her last studio album with vocals, Lights is back with the 13-song PEP. Harnessing unbridled confidence in a time of personal struggles, she pep-talks herself through the hills and valleys of life with a barrage of energetic Pop that is as pleasurable to the ears and body as it is composed of unapologetic self-salvation. It’s a paradox, one that radiates joy in times of sadness, offering fantastical escapism that is apt to inspire some of the heaviest of internal monologues.

She starts off strong, setting an ethereal atmosphere with “Beside Myself.” What is initially composed of gossamer threads builds toward midtempo catharsis as Lights fights to hold onto the goodness in life in the face of an ever-daunting future. Then, shifting toward breezier vibes, she tackles “In My Head,” which features Josh Dun of Twenty One Pilots. Appropriately, the track allows Lights to dance to her own drum for an airy respite, one that offers an upbeat means of staying sane amid the chaos.

As the record unfolds further, its highlights offer feminist magic, infectious sing-alongs, and more. From electro-ballad “Rent” to Synthpop earworm “Okay Okay,” along with the album’s powerful conclusion, “Grip,” Lights takes us on a journey through her unbridled creativity. And while it would be hard to say that anything she does is ever a ‘throwback’ to her earliest material, if this can be said of any track amid the collection, the soft sincerity of “Voices Carry” would most fit that bill, simultaneously calling to mind The Listening and Siberia.

Not alike in its format or sound, but equally impressive, is the album’s true gem, “Prodigal Daughter.” With its fat bass and sensual electronics, the dynamic shifts of “Prodigal Daughter” are intended to empower listeners to crush societal expectations, rise above oppression, and find their own beauty and purpose outside of the ideals imposed by society and religion. Much like its creator, the track is passionate with kisses of aggression, firm in its stance that we achieve our greatest heights when we allow ourselves to find our truest form.

There is, however, a slight lull when the record hits its third act. While the R&B influences on “Sparky,” languid groove of “Real Thing” (featuring Electropop singer-songwriter Elohim), and the island feels of “Easy Money” are solid offerings, they lack the immediate appeal of their siblings. Placed alongside tracks such as “Salt and Vinegar,” “Money In the Bag” (which features Canadian songbird Kiesza), and the bloody rebel clawing its way through “Jaws,” they hold their own, but fail to land with the oomph of singles such as “Prodigal Daughter.”

Which is okay. Not every song has to be a showstopper, and Lights certainly understands how to continually forge ahead and defy genre without hesitation, all while providing a substance to her material that carefully balances the feel-good with reality. This is a major part of what has made the Canadian siren such a draw, commercially and artistically, while simultaneously maintaining her approachability. A nonconformist, Lights is going to speak her mind when she has something passionate to say, insight to offer, or simply hopes to crush the algorithms with her creative might. But her art is also meant to keep your body moving as it serves as a reminder to embrace what makes you happy.

There’s a simplicity to being aware of the storm clouds all around and yet still being able to laugh, and who are we to argue with a self-proclaimed ‘sad girl’ whose happiness is so darn infectious? For this, Cryptic Rock gives Light’s PEP 4.5 out of 5 stars.


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