You don’t want to make the same album twice, but you want to maintain your sound. Canadian synth chanteuse Lights once again has avoided that conundrum with her third album Little Machines. The opening track, the aptly named “Portal,” sets a serious tone, but not an oppressive one.
The lead single “Up We Go” dropped a few weeks ahead of the album and is probably the one track on the CD that sounds like it could have come from previous efforts The Listening or Siberia. Yet, it too has a certain freshness.
Still very electronic, a few guitars manage to sneak their way in, particularly on the single. It’s reminiscent of late ‘80s Depeche Mode in the way the synths are merely flavored by a bit of guitar (think “Enjoy the Silence”). It’s hard to tell if this is a return to her roots (she played guitar in a metal band in high school), or her new husband’s subtle influence.
In 2011, while touring Siberia, she met Beau Bokan, lead singer of metalcore outfit Blessthefall. Within a year they were married and have since had a child. If he had an influence musically it’s low key, so to speak. In spots it’s hard to tell if the guitars are being played or sampled. On “Running with the Boys,” likely the next single, the guitar sounds like New Order’s bass, as played by Peter Hook, only the actual bass line on the track is being played on a synth. Speaking of hooks, this track certainly has them.
And speaking of New Order, “Same Sea,” another candidate for single consideration, starts with Lights giggling briefly, a la Bernie Sumner on “Every Little Counts.” The song has some big keyboards on it, which unfortunately obscure her voice a bit.
Perhaps it was the relentless touring of the first two albums, but in any case, Lights has developed into an outstanding vocalist. On her first record, The Listening, a lot of her vocals were processed to the point that they sounded like they were auto-tuned. It was merely for effect though, as on stage her voice was more than capable and has only gotten more so.
Sadly, that isn’t showcased on Little Machines, save for “Don’t go Home Without Me,” which does allow her voice to soar, and lets it come through strong in the mx. Maybe she felt she proved she had pipes on the acoustic version of Siberia, or feels the vocals shine brighter live. Songs like “Slow Down” and “Muscle Memory” demonstrate the nuances of her voice, with the latter, musically, putting the listener in the mind of Erasure. “Meteorites” too has a nice ‘80s feel, without feeling dated.
Electronic music is in a funny place these days, but Lights continues to set herself apart from the dance-oriented chart fare and EDM-influenced tracks that seem to have taken over the genre. There’s nothing wrong with those styles to be sure, but Lights simply puts out more consistent quality music as this album proves.
9 Maple Leafs out of 10
PF Wilson has been writing about music, TV, radio, and movies for over 20 years. He has also written about sports, business, and politics with his work appearing in Cincinnati CityBeat, The Houston Press, Cleveland Scene, Cincinnati Magazine, Cincy Magazine, Atomic Ranch, and many more. Check out his podcast PF’s Tape Recorder available from Podbean or in iTunes.