LIGHTS’ ‘Little Machines’: Album Review

If there’s any artist who’s proven that you don’t necessarily need all the frills and tricks to have have a continuous career, it’s LIGHTS. From the moment she dropped her self-titled EP in 2008 and caught the attention of clothing retailer Old Navy, LIGHTS’ light and airy vocals, spacey melodies and honest lyrics drew fans from all over the world and forged the way for her debut album The Listening in 2008 and 2011’s sophomore effort Siberia.Now she’s back with her third LP Little Machines (out today, ), which LIGHTS recently told us was her best work yet. After looking at the progression over the past six years, it’s not that hard to agree. The album not only gives her devoted fans a lot of the sounds that made them fall for her in the first place, it also contains various nuances that show her growth and maturity. Sure, she’s still in her 20s (27 to be exact). But now that’s not only married and a mom, LIGHTS has clearly gone through a number of experiences that inspired songs that can appeal to an older audience as well.

The first track she dropped from the LP is “Portal.” Probably still inspired by her efforts to do a stripped-down version of her very plugged-in Siberia, “Portal,” also the song that kicks off the album itself, is built on one chord. While that seems like she’s going the easy route, doing this makes the listener focus on the lyrics and emotion coming out of the song. Written and produced by solely by her, it’s easy to see why she decided to use this track to reintroduce herself into the world. The intentional restraint in the instrumentals forces us to see a deeper side of LIGHTS on this ballad.

Since she’s known for her more upbeat and dancey music, LIGHTS’ following pre-album releases were “Running with the Boys” and “Up We Go,” ones that take us on a musical ride that picks up speed as you go through the first three tracks in order. “Running with the Boys,” produced with Drew Pearson of Katy Perry and OneRepublic fame, has more of a radio-friendly pop vibe. “Up We Go,” while still pop, is much more an anthem that has some edge with a hard drum beat. This track reunites her with longtime producer and collaborator Thomas Salter.

If there’s one theme that’s consistent throughout the album, it’s the idea of always being on the move. “Same Sea” delves into the relationship between two people who may not always be together but will travel where they need to go to keep it working. Meanwhile “Speeding” is another kind of movement where LIGHTS has a goal in mind, and nothing will stop her from getting to that. That idea also rings true in “How We Do It,’ a positive anthem that can easily be associated with the state that LIGHTS is in right now. Need proof? Just check out all the adorable family pics on her Instagram.

If there are two songs that are reminiscent of the synth-heavy sounds she brought out in her early days, they’re “Meteorites” and “Muscle Memory.” Although it’s clear LIGHTS has grown up, it doesn’t mean she has to put that synthesizer away. “Oil And Water,” on the other hand, sounds the least like LIGHTS. The layered vocals on the chorus, the heavy yet slow down beats and the overall gloomy nature of the song seem a bit out of character.

Little Machines ends with “Don’t Go Home Without Me,” another track she wrote and produced herself. After listening to the lyrics, it’s clear that it’s her love letter to her hubby, which is a sweet ending to this third album.

While LIGHTS can be easily written off as another indie-minded pop artist, Little Machines underscores her dynamic growth. That, of course, is only apparent if this style is actually your cup of tea. It’s safe to say that LIGHTS’ sound isn’t for everyone. But for those who have drank from her fountain and are hooked will appreciate this labor of love, and will look forward to seeing it live.

Future Singles: “Speeding” followed by “How We Do It.”

Full Disclosure: When The Listening and 2013’s Siberia (Acoustic) came together, Little Machines became their love child. LIGHTS kept the electronically based space melodies, and her restraint and ability to simplify proves that the singer has graduated into a new musical stage.

Idolator Score: 4/5

— Emily Tan

Tags: ,