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Lights Needs Shine

Observer Scene | Tuesday, October 14, 2008

With an approach that’s as much visual as musical, 21-year-old Canadian singer/songwriter Lights, on her self-titled LP, produces a style that is ambitious and original, even if it doesn’t quite reach its potential.Lights, née Valerie Poxleitner, takes a very hands-on approach to marketing her music. The singer wrote and illustrated a comic book to accompany the LP’s release. In it, she details the progression of her career from a home-schooled missionary’s daughter to the independent, tarantula-loving artist she is now, touring with her band in a converted Meals on Wheels van. Lights transposes this story into a space odyssey, complete with rocket ships and a cosmic disco ball. The theme carries over to her first music video.The LP was released in March 2008 by Doghouse Records, the same label that turned out the All-American Rejects and Say Anything. But Lights’ sound isn’t so much pop-rock as electric-pop, the variety that is so outrageously catchy that its born for television placement.Upon first listen, Lights’ music seems naggingly familiar, like something that was featured on Gossip Girl or something else equally ubiquitous. Despite being catchy, all six songs on the album feel hollow and muted at first listen. The first single, “Drive My Soul,” is a synth-pop ballad, which builds up into an electric and vocal crescendo that’s actually kind of tame. The songs seem like they could have really great potential, but most end up deflated. Part of the problem may be Light’s soft, little-girl voice over a synthesizer, not exactly the most soulful of instruments. At times the music sounds like a techno mix of a Vanessa Carlton song and Lights’ cutesy space travel shtick can be a little off-putting.But it’s hard not to resist her earnest lyrics and vocals – even if the latter is sometimes drowned out by all the electric sound machinations in the background. “February Air,” however, stands out as a great amalgam of catchy lyrics, vocals, and a tune that goes from twee to bombastic and then back again. After several listens through the 20-minute LP, it becomes apparent that Lights’ style can’t really be compared with her peers. Despite the obvious power-pop influences on her sound, Lights doesn’t veer into Miley Cyrus sugar-sweetness, nor does she get too self-aware (hello, Avril Lavigne), even with the aforementioned cosmic adventure comic book. Lights somehow manages to strike a balance between the two and produce a really original sound. With only six songs, though, it’s hard to tell what her fulfilled potential will be.