Five years ago, the electronic music field looked vastly different than what it is today. Since then, La Roux proved a surprising newcomer with her hit single “Bulletproof,” Skrillex was the first electronic artist nominated for major Grammy awards, and Disclosure led the modern-day electronic charge into mainstream culture. The relatively young genre has transformed into an increasingly diversifying arena filled with quality artists as each year passes.
Let’s not forget Canadian artist Lights, who—after a string of albums and bubbly chart-hungry singles—finds herself releasing her third studio album, Little Machines, amidst a now packed-out electronic venue.
Interestingly, the album opens with a strikingly slower tempo song than Lights is known for.
“Portal” showcases smooth and somewhat dreamy vocals—free of the reverb and annoying auto-tune that plagued her previous album—supported by an increasingly pulsating beat and various atmospheric electronica. The result is a carefully designed song that never outdoes itself with sound. “The Same Sea” follows the same formula: A slow beginning that increases in both vocals and productions as it progresses, never sounding over-the-top. Although it represents an intriguing and new direction for Lights, it begins to wear thin. By seventh song “Oil & Water,” the muted drums become tiresome and her layered vocals sound tinny, which, when matched with somewhat understated production, results in a frustrating ‘almost-but-not-quite’ listen. It’s an experience that lacks the climactic final choruses the songs deserve.
Then everything changes. Eighth track “Slow Down” introduces an ’80s guitar riff and more earthy vocals—a welcome departure from the first half of the album. “How We Do It” is a highly uplifting track including lush synthesizers, while album closer “Don’t Go Home Without Me” is a stunning and personal moment—rare for Lights—in which she proclaims to her partner, “This is the song I’ll sing to you when you’re old and tired […] I’ll sing it to remind you that I’m old beside you.” It’s a conclusion to a much more self-aware and introspective album, one that thrives in the second half’s lyrical depth and retro-inspired arrangements rather than the heavily synthetic sound of her previous work.
Despite the slow start, Little Machines marks a mature turn for Lights. Creating an album in which the second half is stronger than the first is rare. Yet, Lights succeeds, creating a record that never over-indulges and provides the listener with an uplifting ’80s-esque experience and—although not necessarily providing an immediate chart-topper like her previous albums—ultimately maintaining her niche position of electropop in the current electronic and overall music scene.