LIGHTS – The Listening

October 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Posted in LIGHTS | Leave a comment
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  1. Saviour
  2. Drive My Soul
  3. River
  4. The Listening
  5. Ice
  6. Pretend
  7. The Last Thing On Your Mind
  8. Second Go
  9. February Air
  10. Face Up
  11. Lions!
  12. Quiet
  13. Pretend (Reprise)
  14. Up Up and Away

I was introduced to LIGHTS a few years ago when I was channel surfing and came across one of her videos. Her voice stood out to me immediately and her style of electropop was refreshing. She has a childish tone to her voice that may turn some people off but it’s suiting for her innocent, cute and space-like dream pop. She co-wrote and co-produced the entire album, some track are done solely by her, which is more than what most artists are capable of. The Listening showcases her talent and ability to mold synths into delightful melodies. It’s a childhood utopia, riddled with a sense of nostalgia and warming love. There’s no dance tune or club banger to nod your head to. LIGHTS’ world is one of playfulness and intelligence, a place to escape the burdens of adulthood.

The night is deafening/when the silence is listening/and I’m down on my knees /and I know that something is missing,” LIGHTS coolly sings in her whisper-like vocals for the opening track, Saviour. Packed with space-like synths and light drums, the warm ambience it creates is not only beautiful but addicting as well. Her voice is so simple and light, the perfect accompaniment for the savoury instrumental. The chorus takes you on a natural high as a keyboard is added to the mix and she puts some strength into her singing, “I just wanna run to you/and break off the chains/and throw them away/I just wanna be so much/and shake off the dust/that turn me to rust.” The whole feel of the song changes as the chorus fills it with a warm, positive aura and it’s even more stunning in the climatic final chorus. The inclusion of ad-libs and shouting background vocals makes the final chorus a barrage of gorgeous harmonies that work seamlessly together. Right at the start, LIGHTS has offered one of the strongest songs off the album. Drive My Soul introduced me to her and I knew there was something special about her the moment I laid my eyes on her. While this song carries on with the cosmic atmosphere, it adds a layer of romance that will tug at the hearts of many, “you make the darkness disappear/I feel found when you stay near/I know where I am when you are here/my way becomes so clear.” Her vocals are breathtaking. The longing tone and the romantic build-up that it undergoes as it enters the chorus is fantastic. She flows in unison with the melody, effortlessly and beautifully. All of these elements are enhanced for the touching and catchy chorus, “when you’re gone/will I lose control?/you’re the only road I know/you show me where to go/who will drive me soul?” The bridge is infused with a guitar while she reaches some great notes and the new instrumentation continues on for the final chorus.

River does away with the space synthesizers and opts for a natural ambience. It’s still very electronic with traces of an electric guitar. The verses are bouncy and the chorus is an affair of bright synths and adorable vocals, “take me river, carry me far/lead me river, like a mother/take me over, to some other unknown/put me in the undertow.” The piano solo in the bridge is sublime, tender and it captures the peace associated with rivers. The final section has a grand air to it but then it drops all the elegant instruments for a piano-driven chorus that flutters in and closes the song. The album gets a darker production for the title track, The Listening. Opening with a low, heavy synth beat that morphs into buzzing beats and hard percussion, this is the most impactful song on the album. In contrast to the heavier melody, LIGHTS voice remains soft and it’s sweeter than before as she sings, “I never really ever know what to say/when all of my emotions get in the way/I’m just trying to get us on the same page (wish I could explain),” in a lush high tone. The chorus is a mix of fantastic pop beats and vocals. LIGHTS shows off her melisma as she holds the note at the end of the chorus wonderfully. The title isn’t actually said until the bridge and it’s the highlight due to the lovely lyrics, “can I let the trees do the talking/can I let the ground do the walking/can I let the sky fill what’s missing/can I let my mouth do the listening, the listening.” It’s quite a powerful message. This is the epitome of the album and it’s represents everything it stands for.

Ice is as upbeat as LIGHTS is going to get and it’s one of my favourites. Right from the intro with its quirky synth beats and angelic vocals, I was hooked. Video game-like beats fill the verses and her voice is so clear. She uses a slightly deeper register and adds just a touch of aggression to her vocals. During the chorus, the melody explodes into an energetic stomper and her quick singing is so infectious, “what I mean is, all I need is/just a little emotion/‘cause all I see is you not feeling/and you’re giving me nothing nice/I tried to do you right/why’d you have to go and turn to ice.” The bridge is faster and even more amazing as her voice dances through it, joined by a hard and buzzing synth line. This is a superb track and it should not be missed. My all time favourite track, Pretend, is the lone ballad on the album. It calls to the innocence of childhood that seems to be lost in the process of growing up, “once in a while/I act like a child/to feel like a kid again.” The electronic backing is really nice and it sets up a nostalgic ambience that will have you thinking back to your younger years. It’s such an easy song to relate to and the lyrics are so simple but they’re brimming with meaning, “yeah, when fights were for fun/we had water in guns.” LIGHTS’ voice is airy and breathy during the chorus with a child-like tone that’s also tragic, “it would be nice/to start over again/before we were men/I’d give, I’d bend/let’s play pretend.” During the final portion, the background vocals take it to a heightened atmosphere and it’s very serene. It’s childish and yet it’s the most mature offering, encapsulating all the great things about the album.

The Last Thing On Your Mind is a cute mid-tempo. It’s a nice listen and the composition keeps it lively due to the changing instrumentation. At first, it’s a music box-like synth beat with light percussion that leads to a subtle electro beat for the chorus where she performs with airy vocals, “sing the last thing on your mind/the last word on your breath/I’ll be the one to keep you, keep you at your best.” The second verse has a deeper synth line and the second chorus is louder, features a keyboard and she sings with more power. It continuously gets better as it progresses and the electric guitar that’s included at the end is a nice surprise. Second Go shakes the album up with its vibrant assault of synths. They’re toned down in the first verse and there is a moment where her voice doesn’t flow well with the melody but it’s a very minor issue because, overall, this is a catchy tune. In the second verse, she avoids the awkward moment and the echoing backing vocals make a huge difference. The chorus is fun, cute and her sweet vocals really pull you in, “give me a second go/don’t let me go alone/you saw me at the worst/you caught me falling first.” February Air is flawless. It’s one of the first songs I heard by her and I’ve loved it since. Her voice is at its best and I like the highs and lows it goes through in the verses. The chorus is chilling, it’s a winter wonderland and her high vocals are so pleasant, “my arms get cold/in February air/please don’t lose hold of me, out there.” During the bridge, which is my favourite part, strings are added to make the melody dramatic and LIGHTS comes in vocalizing the biggest notes on the entire album. It’s amazing, she sounds great and the song is a treat for the ears.

Face Up is a stripped electronic and motivating song. It’s a highlight for sure and LIGHTS works her magic again. Soft, melodic synths dominate the verses whereas the chorus features grand, uplifting synths that work with her voice to produce a smile-inducing anthem, “look at the people all around you/the way you feel is something everybody goes through/dark out, but you still gotta light up/you need to wake up, gotta keep your face up.” The choruses following the first receive a dash of acoustics that blend beautifully with the synths and the background vocals are gorgeous. I love the positive feel that comes out because it’s so contagious. Lions! is one of the cuter moments due to the giddy beats and chirping vocals. Although not as great as the others, it’s still decent and listenable. The verses are nice with their pounding synth and drum beat. LIGHTS’ vocals flow really well with the arrangement and the lyrics are good, “and when I’m at the edge of sorrow’s blade/show me how a heart breaks.” The chorus is a little weak compared the verses and it ends up being too similar to some of the other tracks. There’s nothing that really sets it apart. It’s a good song, it’s just lacking in a few places.

Quiet is way more interesting with its quirky synth and bass beats. Her voice is gentle, like the melody, and the chorus has a nice calming effect. Cute synths, water droplets and vocoded melismic runs all come together for a catchy result, “I could wait a thousand hours/stay the same in sun and showers/pick apart a hundred flowers/just to be quiet.” Her vocals at the end of the chorus are amazing and they have just the right amount of vocoder on them to make them addicting. It has all the right ingredients for a chill-out pop track. Ending the album is Pretend (Reprise) which shatters the focus on synthetic beats and brings LIGHTS down to earth with its entirely organic setting. While the electronic version has a yearning feel to it, the reprise is more of a lament. The piano, the sole instrument accompanying the songstress, is tender and LIGHTS holds her own, proving that she doesn’t need the vocoder/auto-tune. Her voice is emotive, passionate and absolutely beautiful. It’s just as excellent as the original and it’s a very interesting take on it. The iTunes bonus track, Up Up and Away, opens with an adorable twinkling melody and low synths. There’s a spacey feel to it and her vocals are really bright. The percussion in the chorus makes an impact as the volume increases and LIGHTS’ high register is great, “we are rockets in the sky/we are planets passing by/up up and away/forget me/go your own way.” The breakdown is ethereal as it becomes a concoction of a serene piano melody, dial tuning and echoing backing vocals. This is a feel-good song and its blissful melody is so catchy.

Conclusion: It’s easy to love LIGHTS due to her adorable vocals and earworm compositions. Her voice is the perfect match for the bouncy, cute melodies that make up the album. I love her voice. It’s not going to appeal to everyone but she’s expressive and she can hit some pretty good notes. It’s very distinct and there’s something about it that’s pleasing to the ears. The Listening is an excellent debut, full of catchy hits and great writing. The music is quite simple compared to most electropop but it’s creative, fresh and different. The childish air is a major contributor to its brilliance and the songs are anything but childish. They’re deep, honest, motivational and sometimes sad. It’s an amazing contrast that works and fits with the album’s themes of love and innocence.

Recommended: Pretend, February Air, Ice,  Face Up, The Listening, Saviour, Drive My Soul, Pretend (Reprise) and Up Up and Away

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