Monday, October 5, 2009

Something Worth 'Listening' To: LIGHTS Album Review


There's a certain facade and coldness that usually surround most pop-stars. Relying heavily on sexual appeal and party lyrics, pop music is often looked at as empty despite expensive and catchy production, and pop-stars often must rely on elaborate dance-routines, skimpy outfits, and breathy lip-syncing. But then there's pop-stars like LIGHTS.

Only in her early 20's, this bright Canadian songstress actually writes her own lyrics, doesn't parade around wearing sequined bra-tops and latex miniskirts, and actually sings with her own - and very talented, might I add - voice. Small and cute as she may be, LIGHTS (yes, that is her real name!) is not just a sugar-and-spice act. In fact, the singer is an avid gamer, comic-book collector, and sci-fi enthusiast, all of those hobbies which influence her dreamy, space-case synth-pop heavily.

Armed with millions of views on her MySpace page, a delicious appetizer of an EP, as well as many awards like the Canadian Juno, LIGHTS is finally releasing her full-length debut called 'The Listening.' A collection of sweet, sparkly electro-pop tracks, 'The Listening' is rife with dreamy emotions, beautiful arrangements, well-worded lyrics, understandable metaphors, and catchy sing-a-long melodies backed by some very happy, very spacey synth effects.

As the first song on 'The Listening' opens, a powerful and emotional pop track called "Saviour," you know you have hit the ear-candy jackpot of music trick-or-treating. A perfectly produced pop gem, "Saviour" glistens with an unforgettable synth-laden melody and soul-shaking beats, dazzling with its heavily emotional lyrics as LIGHTS reaches out and soars cosmically with her voice.

Next on the album is a re-mastered "Drive My Soul," one of LIGHTS' most emotional, soulful, and well-known hits. Through a soft, repetitive beat and ambient synths, LIGHTS' lullaby voice begs the question, "Who will drive my soul?" Like water dripping and echoing in a deep cave, the melodic beat of this song reverberates and vibrates within you until you feel as if you have known it your entire life.

One of my favorite live songs, "River," opens next energetically with a heavy techno-clash riff and a muffled electronic beat that builds slowly and explodes into LIGHTS' existential, metaphoric lyrics. Somewhere in the middle, the music winds down into a sweet, breathy vocal bridge across this techno-rock river, before crashing again into the thick bass flowing through the track, keeping the song upbeat, big, and edgy.

Like light reflecting off the moon at night, "The Listening" pours itself onto you with a sleepy, atmospheric melody, as well as breathtaking pan flute synth effects, swirling synths, and dreamy, sentimental lyrics that evoke bitter-sweet frustrations about not being able to "get the right words." With a sweet, moody sound and relatable lyrics, it's definitely one of the songs that get stuck between the ears and will sure to be a big hit. In fact, it's no wonder that "The Listening" stands as the titular song on this album.

Quirky and playful, a re-mixed version of "Ice" serves as the next song and is an attitude-driven, cheeky track quipped energetically by LIGHTS to an unresponsive lover. The track, one of the faster ones on the album, is backed by a quick, twinkling techno-pop beat that happily and optimistically contrasts the moody, frustrated lyrics of the song.


Like a lullaby, "Pretend" sweeps over you with a sweet music box melody and emotional, moving lyrics about childhood, innocence, and wanting to "grow up again." Lightly backed only by a few chimes and some soft electronic blips, this song was clearly tailored to mostly showcase its tender, heartfelt lyrics. Definitely one of the most touching songs on the album, "Pretend" reaches from somewhere deep within the songwriter and pulls out a very precious glimpse raw human emotion.

The Last Thing On Your Mind” quietly twinkles as it opens, but the song itself is actually a big, optimistic anthem that pushes a very heartfelt, very optimistic message. Quirky beats and bright lyrics make this track a powerful and unforgettable pop hit, as well as a perfect sing-a-long song!

Second Go” is the next track (another personal favorite of mine) which is based on a colorful 80’s new-wave synth, heavy dance bass, chirpy claps, and ultra-catchy melody-driven lyrics. Listeners beware: Your hair might tease itself while this track blasts! Drawing inspiration from vintage Phil Collins and 80’s pop, the song may be totally retro, yet doesn’t quite over-play the cheesy factor, making for a modern, fresh, and energetic dance-pop song.

Cool and chipper, “February Air” is another song on the album that is difficult to forget, as the melody is so catchy it’s nearly impossible to not pick it up after the first listen. Somehow, what is actually a very mellow song with sad lyrics comes across not as depressing, but happy instead, with some very real emotions and feelings that resonate with any listener.

Face Up,” one of the most powerful songs on the album, is a sweeping, shimmery, and shiny pop ballad that carries an optimistic message about perseverance, hope, and determination. Silky synths and driving beats move the song slowly but heavily against LIGHTS' smooth vocal prowess. An anthem for the ages, “Face Up” delivers soul-searching, inspirational lyrics atop very relatable and moving emotions, making it one of the brightest gems on the record.

Lions!" – my absolute favorite song – sparkles epically as it opens, making way for a gamer techno beat as it accelerates into some of the most inspirational, and geeky, lyrics on ‘The Listening.’ Conjuring up fantastical imagery in the form of giants and swords, LIGHTS valiantly sings about “looking for the thunder” and being courageous despite all odds against upbeat electro-pop.

True to its title, “Quiet” is a mellow and sweet little love-song that, despite sugary vocals and simple structure, boasts big emotion and creative production. "No tragedy, no poetry," LIGHTS sings, echoing the clean, uncomplicated mood of the song. Bubbly little beats and blips - as well as an intriguingly befitting banjo synth - move the track along cutely and happily.

Closing off the album is a reprise of "Pretend," a soft, beautiful piano-driven solo where LIGHTS exhibits her honey-dipped vocals and touching, teary lyrics. There are no synths, no beats, and no spacey electronic effects pillowing her voice in this track, just raw emotion and starry vocal talent that cap off the record gorgeously.

Looks often deceive - and little LIGHTS proves this in a big way on this album. 'The Listening,' at first glance, may come off as a simple little DIY indie girl-pop project, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. 'The Listening' is simple in presentation, yet creative and shiny in production; modern and unique, yet drawing on 80's new-wave influence; feminine and dreamy at times, yet completely understandable and age/gender/genre-defying as far as emotions go. 'The Listening' may be a synth-pop album at heart, but there is nothing synthetic about the emotions and stories woven through this record. They are real, relatable, and surely lasting - just like LIGHTS.

Rating: 10/10

You can purchase and download 'The Listening,' out on Warner Bros. Records, in the USA on iTunes here or on Amazon here tomorrow, Tues. October 6th. The album will also be available in Target stores nationwide. 'The Listening' is currently already out in Canada. Visit LIGHTS official Web site here.

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