In the video for “Savior,” Valerie Poxleitner sits in on a bed armed with a keytar. Her autotuned pixie voice pleads, “I’m a bit of a manic when it’s not as I plan it/ Cause I start losing my head and then I get up in a panic.” The lyrics could be menacing, or at the very least, self loathing emo. Yet they are neither; they are innocent and pure, almost sweet. In the video we then see the petite songstress scribbling with colored pencils as an animated version of her burst to life and flies across the galaxy. The juxtaposition of it all is the perfect way to portray Poxleitner. We get the multidimensional sides of her Lights persona: the introspective synth diva, the colorful artist, and the intergalactic superhero. While the character of Lights is one that spreads across different media, the music is the foundation. With The Listening, Lights has given us a pure pop pleasure.
The Listening is Lights’ first full-length album. It picks up exactly where her self-titled EP from 2008 left off; so much so that four of the songs from that collection reappear here unchanged. And while the repetition may be unnecessary for those already familiar with that release, their inclusion helps the album be an all-around enjoyable listen. There isn’t a moment here that isn’t catchy, bubbly, joyful, and inspiring. The music of Lights will make you smile and want to hold hands.
When the pace is dramatically slowed down on the dual track “Pretend,” the songwriter within Lights takes center stage. The first time the song appears it is set against a synth beat and evokes a feeling of starting over, “Once in a while I act like a child to feel like a kid again/ If feels like feels like a prison in the body I’m living in.” When the song closes the album it is turned into a piano ballad. The change transforms the song into one of loss, saying goodbye to those days of “soda for wine” and fighting with “water in guns.”
“Face Up” is the strongest track with its hushed verses that mount into a loud orchestrated chorus with full thumps, bumps, and bleeps. The rise and fall movement of the melody helps propel Lights’ message of perseverance. Another strong contender is “Quiet” where her lovelorn agenda comes across the best.
Indie electro-pop is a hard genre to stand out within. For every Annie or Fever Ray there are countless others that come off as repetitive, stale dance music. The draw of the aforementioned artists is that they are able to craft meaningful songs set against great synth rhythms. Lights is this type of artists and The Listening is her testament to that.