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Lights: 'Little Machines' Album Review

Sivani |
September 25, 2014 | 10:58 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

"Little Machines" is the third studio album by Canadian electro pop artist, Lights. (Warner Bros.)
"Little Machines" is the third studio album by Canadian electro pop artist, Lights. (Warner Bros.)

If “The Listening” was Lights’ playful, childlike debut in her dreamy realm of electro space pop, then “Siberia” was the grungy, adolescent rebellion, taking influences from dubstep and more experimental electronic genres.

With her third album, “Little Machines,” the Canadian musician returns to a sound reminiscent of the whimsical simplicity of “The Listening”- but this is still significantly different from anything we’ve heard from her before.

This album is much more grown-up. Some of this maturity comes from its themes that inevitably seep in from the musician’s personal life. The 27-year-old Lights had her first child with her husband of two years, Beau Bokan of the band Blessthefall, soon after she finished the recording process for “Little Machines.”

But this record also showcases Lights’ matured vocal sound, which has developed since her debut days. There are many fist-pumping electro pop anthems on this record, all of them showing off the strong command the singer has over her high range. As I listened to this album, I found many of the songs evocative of stadium-pounding diva hits of the likes of Beyoncé - if Beyoncé suddenly decided to go electro pop, that is. Vocally, I would have no hesitation in saying that Lights is on the same level as these huge pop idols, with her unique, light timbre even making her stand out amongst these other singers.

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To preempt my track-by-track review, a disclaimer:  I loved “Siberia” just as much as much as I loved “The Listening,” pretty much off the bat. I haven’t been desperately hankering for “The Listening: Part 2,” though I certainly wouldn’t complain if that were the case. That’s my taste when it comes to Lights and her discography (that I pray never stops growing).

When the opening track of the album, “Portal,” was released as a single, much of the fan base was divided in opinion – was it too experimental? Personally, "Portal" has quickly become one of my favorite songs by Lights, of all time. Its serene but uncertain quiet stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the album (and honestly, the climax brings me to tears almost every time I hear it – her voice and her lyrics are absolutely breathtaking on this one).

Next comes another single – “Running With The Boys” – a nostalgic tune harkening back to the track “Pretend” off Lights’ debut, but with renewed accessibility to pop sensibilities thanks to the thumping chorus that is very hard not to sing-along to.  And then we come to the lead single, “Up We Go,” an uplifting electro pop song that took a while to grow on me, but grow on me it did.

“Same Sea” is a fun, infectious foray into dance-worthy EDM. Yes, this song has a drop, and it’s awesome. The drawn-out metaphor regarding oceans and seas that is upheld throughout the song is a teensy bit clichéd, but it’s okay because Lights’ voice suits this sort of genre so well, and I’d love to hear her dabble more in it. Following this track, “Speeding” is another stand-out track, with its feel-good vibes, airy background vocals and of course, Lights’ incredible falsetto. This is the track to play in your car while cruising down the freeway, “cause it feels good.”

“Muscle Memory” is a warm track about reaching for someone who isn’t there, with one of my favorite bridge sections in the album. The reverb-laden background vocals that kick in at the end of every chorus make this track as addictive as it is. What follows, “Oil and Water,” is a slower, pensive song that brings to the mind the likes of Lana Del Rey– and it’s wonderful. Lights’ voice suits slow and pensive so well.

“Slow Down” stood out as soon as I heard it – the lyrics are interesting to interpret ("When I was young you were only a ghost/Taking no friends leaving me alone/When we are grown tell me where do we go/So fast") and the transition from verse to chorus feels so satisfying. “Meteorites” has a similar sentiment to “Up We Go,” – it’s optimistic, but feels empty despite its loudness. “How We Do It” pales in the same way, as another positive, forward-looking tune that falls flat, perhaps because it feels too alike to these other tracks thematically.

If you don’t have the deluxe version of “Little Machines,” the album ends with one of the best tracks: “Don’t Go Home Without Me.” Again, I love it every time Lights gets soft – this track is an adorable ode to the one you love, with lyrics like “This is the song I will sing to you when you're old and tired/I will sing it to remind you that I’m old beside you/And if you're tired of hearing my voice/I’m gonna sing it to you anyway/’Cause I know that if we made it this far/Those differences have been put away.”

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For those with the deluxe version, however, the adventure continues with three more tracks. “Child” speaks of the same yearning for childhood as “Running With The Boys,” but “Child” is less of a triumphant anthem and more of an uncertain plea. The soundscape in this song is beautiful, enhanced by the choppy vocals that paint the background of the inquisitive verse melodies. “Lucky Ones,” the second bonus track, begins with deeper, more affected vocals by Lights that are exciting at first, but the track as a whole disappointingly fails to sustain this interest.

But the final bonus track, “From All Sides,” is amazing from the get-go, with its edgy guitar riff and Lights drawn-out vocal soars. And then, that bridge – breaking into, for the first time in this record, pure acoustic loveliness, with just Lights and a guitar – is sure to have old fans begging for more. Will Lights release an acoustic version of “Little Machines,” as she did with “Siberia?” One can only hope, as we know from past experience that Lights is just as brilliant acoustically as she is electronically.

With its perfect pop anthems and 80s synth vibes, “Little Machines” feels both new and classic. Some of the songs in the record feel uniform and therefore uninteresting, both in sound and theme (“Up We Go,” “Meteorites,” “How We Do It,” “Lucky Ones,”) but the tracks that shine really shine. It’s the kind of record that has something for everyone – “Portal,” “Slow Down” and “From All Sides” should please fans of “Sibera,” and most of the other tracks carry forward electro pop goodness akin to songs of “The Listening,” only complemented now by Lights’ freshly developed, commanding vocal style that is both nimble and strong all at once.

In short: Lights is an electronica goddess, and “Little Machines,” while not a perfect record, is absolutely testament to this.

Reach Staff Reporter Sivani here.  



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