As the self-titled EP from Lights opens up with “Ice,” Britney Spears comes to mind. Let’s just put that out there first and foremost since, for some, it will be the deciding factor of whether this CD ends up as a keeper or in the garbage can. It’s not everybody’s can of worms. Actually, I think most people reading this review would prefer a can of worms rather than listening to typical pop music. So while the breathy Spears-like vocals and the “ice, ice, baby” line in that first song don’t work in her favor, Lights is able to get rise above the standard offering from the pop music genre on her debut. If you are one that can’t sidle up to music with some overly bubblegum moments, then Lights is not for you. However, if you’re looking for a little collection of above average pop tunes that show promise, then you could find something to smile about with this EP.
Lights is Valerie Poxleitner, a 21 year-old native of Ontario, Canada. And yes, looking at her photos you can even say that she slightly embodies the original naughty Catholic schoolgirl version of Britney Spears from ten years ago that everyone crushed on (come on, admit it). Her discovery during a Walmart modeling casting sounds extremely contrived, but there is nothing manufactured about her as she writes and produces all her material, and holds her own as a multi-instrumentalist.
In some places Lights has been labeled as synth-pop, but these tunes actually lean a bit towards bubblegum pop. While the electronica is there, it’s watered down in style and with lyrics that are probably meant to appeal to a more mainstream audience than the agony-is-sexy crowd of synth-pop. So let’s reach a fair medium by categorizing her music “electro-pop.” Listening to her songs makes me imagine them being used as the backdrop during a scene in Gossip Girl or The Hills. That is probably because several of the six songs were already featured in Old Navy commercials this year. With her background build by Walmart and Old Navy, Lights pretty much goes against some key ideals of the indie culture, but once you get past this, there are actually some quality songs here.
“Drive My Soul” holds its own sappy moments with lines like, “You make the darkness disappear/ I feel found when you are near,” but perhaps it’s the cheese that actually makes it good. There’s no cryptic lyrics or hidden messages, just a simple song about finding love and holding on to it. Lights creates a great melody while her vocals settle into those more of a seductive synth-pop styling than a commercial one. The same can be said about the track “February Air,” while “I Owe You One” seems to thank a mentor-like figure and “White” kicks up the dance tempo.
The EP is not landmark or visionary by any means; you won’t hear anyone calling Lights the Canadian Amy Winehouse or the next Lily Allen. Yet she is able to join that group of female singers who create a more sophisticated pop than your run of the mill manufactured type. It will be interesting to see how Lights develops as a songwriter and producer as she gets older. This is probably the most exciting factor about the EP, that beneath the cheesy, excessively happy moments lies is a skilled musician building a steady foundation for the next generation of indie pop starlets.