music / Columns

Information Overload 01.21.10: Lights

January 21, 2010 | Posted by 411Mania Staff

Hello all, and welcome to an exciting new feature here in the 411mania Music Zone! Information Overload is your one stop destination for artists whom you may have never heard before. It will feature (depending on availability), concert reviews, album reviews as well as an exclusive interview with some of today’s brightest young talents. First up, is Canadian songwriter and multi-talented artist, Lights who may be passing through your town in the near future in support of Owl City. Born Valerie Poxleitner in the sleepy northern town of Timmins, Ontario, Canada, Lights has built a strong fan base in Canada. With the release of her first full length album, “The Listening” she sought to conquer the rest of the world. This is everything you need to know about Lights, and why you should give a damn about this beautiful synth-pop maestro. By the end of this column, you will be suffering from total information overload…and you’ll probably want to buy her album.

The Interview

411:Why Lights? What significance does that name have to you?

Lights: “It came from my last name, Poxleitner. It became a shortened version of my name, people called me Lights instead of Poxleitner. It felt so natural that I made it my legal first name a few years ago, so I’m Lights Poxleitner now.”

It seems as if you have been on tour for the better part of the last year, what is the one thing (ignoring the essentials of course) that you cannot live without while on the road?

“I can’t live without my laptop, and my ability to hear things through it…I learnt this the hard way. I got my headphone jack stuck in the adapter and it broke off inside of the input, I went without audio on my laptop for a couple of weeks and it was the hardest couple of weeks of my life! I couldn’t record on it, I couldn’t listen to music on it, I couldn’t lay down musical ideas, watch videos, I couldn’t do anything! I realized that audio, on a social media platform, without that, I am nothing.”

You’re about to embark upon a big tour with Owl City of “Fireflies” fame, are you excited?

“It should be awesome, currently I’m focused on my Canadian tour but we’re drawing to the end of it then I’ll be able to think about that. It’s going to be awesome, it feels right, he’s like…”

The male Lights?

“That’s what they say! And vice versa, I’ve been a fan of his for a while. We follow each other online, we’ve never actually met in real life but I’ve followed him for a long time and am so proud to see him blowing up the way that he has. Any way that I can support him would be awesome.”

After all this touring, the record release in America, where do you want to be this time next year?

“After the Owl City tour, there will probably be more touring, probably another Canadian headliner. I’m already starting to work on new music, as I always am, keeping the creative juices flowing… I hope to have a whole pile of new songs by next year, not that I plan on releasing them quite yet…”The Listening” did take two years to put together, writing a bunch of songs and picking only the best of the best. I already know what I’m going to be doing for the next two years, working on the next one!”

If there is one song of yours which a possible fan should listen to, what is it and why?

“At this point, I would probably say “Saviour” because the sentiment of it, sad but hopeful…it is indicative of most of my material. The dynamics of the track as well, you get the moody verses and the energetic chorus where it breaks out, the electro elements mixed with raw dynamics. It’s a good example of the whole record.”

Who would you say is your greatest musical influence?

“If I had to pare it down to one, I would say Bjork. Music wise, song writing and lyrics wise coupled with the fact that she is the total package and has complete control…that’s inspiring.”

What would you say is your biggest career moment to this point?

“It doesn’t really work like that for me, it’s more like a series of events. If you had asked me that a year ago, I would have said something entirely different. A few of my favorite moments to this point though, one of which was the show I recently performed in Toronto. Everytime I do a show in Toronto, its kind of a landmark, it was the biggest show I had ever done, close to 2200 people. The energy was great, seeing that many people singing the songs back, it makes you feel like you are doing the right thing. It’s things like that, and making the video of my dreams. You know what one of the biggest things for me is, and this is so bizarre because it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with music, but its the comic that I’m working on with Tom Coker. Of all the things I have accomplished, this is one of the things I am most proud of.”

What is your favorite video game?

“Well…World of Warcraft, if we’re going to talk about MMO’s”
Yes…That’s really her.

Movie?

“The Shining”

Really? Kubrick ruined it!

“Are you kidding me? Kubrick made it better, the book is awesome but I thought Kubrick made it great by adding his own elements to it, and I love Kubrick.”

Song?

“Ever? Right now its “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House”

That’s so 80s!

“All of them tend to be from the 80s!”

Snack food?

“This is weird but…well…Beef jerky…deli meat and grapes.”

Book?

“It’s called “The Oath” by Frank Peretti”

How many tattoos do you have?

“That’s a good question, I actually don’t know the total because some of them are more than one piece, I count the arms as one. I guess seven pieces?”

First song you EVER performed in front of an audience?

“That would go back to Grade 8, I played “I Will Remember You” on Remembrance Day.”

Craziest Road Story?

“There has been a number of them, we’ve had things happen where our bus has broken down in the middle of the desert and we’re late for Warped Tour. We’ve had to cancel shows because of weather. One at this point would be at the end of our month long American Tour, when our Canadian tour would be beginning in the same week, only two days apart. Within those two days, alot was changing, we were bringing new people on and we basically went from Vancouver to Victoria and realized we didn’t have one member of our party and he had to take a ferry to catch up. Things like that happen, its chaos but it all ends up working out.”

Are keytars inherently awesome?

“Keytars are only awesome depending on who’s wielding it. It really comes down to whether or not you have the grace to tame the keytar.”
Hmm…I think she’s pulling it off.

The Album

 

Following the success of her self-titled EP, Lights’ next task was to create her first full length album. Furthermore, it was decided that it would be subject to a wider release including a first foray into the American market. “The Listening” was the end result of two years creativity, inspiration and labor. It shows, as one can clearly discern the strength of each song on the album, there is no filler here.

The album kicks off with the song which Lights believes is necessary listening for any prospective fan. “Saviour” has all the elements that she wants to be known for, swinging dynamics, simple yet moving lyrics and excellent forward momentum. The track is a straightforward single, catchy to the end with a strong breakdown and phenomenal rebuild. It is a great way to kick off the album, and represents one of her stronger pieces.

Continuing with this trend, the second track off of the album is her debut single, at least in the Canadian market, the beautiful “Drive My Soul”. It was this song that first drew me to Lights, catchy lyrics over a simple yet strong synth backing contribute to a slightly melancholy yet uplifting track. It follows the pattern established in “Saviour”, muted dynamics leading to a depressing breakdown before culminating in the uplifting crescendo. It is a beautiful track, with lyrics that play with a simplistic metaphor over strong synthesized instrumentation.

Next up is a track with phenomenal synth work yet some lyrics which at times seem uninspired, especially in the chorus. That is not to say that “River” is a bad track, simply one which does not appeal to me. The lyrics are at times too metaphorical, especially in the chorus. However, the synth intro is phenomenal, and her instrumentation throughout is awesome to say the least.

The title track of the album is up next and once again features the muted dynamics/breakdown/rebuild pattern which seems incredibly indicative of most of the album. This track features a good synth intro coupled with simple, effective lyrical styling. It’s catchy at its best, however the album is becoming formulaic, which seems to be its downfall. “The Listening” is a strong song on a strong album, however, there are points where it seems far too restrained and muted. I want to hear her lose control on a track, I want to be overpowered by her phenomenal voice. There is one section in particular where, as a listener, I just want her to go all Amy Lee on us and absolutely overpower the track. It doesn’t happen, and that is my only disappointment with this song.

Next up is another single, “Ice” which continues all the trends previously outlined while featuring one section where she seems to note my aforementioned criticism and fly off the proverbial handle in the rebuild prior to an instrumental break. Its nice to hear, and really improves the strength of a song based off of a terrible metaphor. I defy you to listen to the track and not want to sing along or dance like a fool. I’d love to hear some Lights remixes, and would kill to see her pair up with Deadmau5. Think “I Remember” on steroids…at least that’s what I’d like to see.

Back to the music with the heartfelt “Pretend” which makes two appearances on the album, the fully synthesized weaker version and the truly moving piano driven reprise. It is a great ballad about the pressures of her chosen career and how it would be great to go back to childhood. The lyrics are incredibly moving, however, I find the instrumentation in the full version to detract from the overall power of the track. The reprise closes the album on an incredibly low note, but it fits. Back to something slightly more uplifting,

“The Last Thing On Your Mind” which follows the pop pattern and checks in, as all songs on the album do, at just over three minutes. It’s not a terrible track by any means, it features a great breakdown where she once again overcomes her own muted dynamics. Its already been done on this album though, and that is the greatest detractor from my enjoyment of this track.

Next up is the enjoyable “Second Go” which features some phenomenal mid-80s synth power, complete with chimes! Honestly though, the track is catchy and features some great instrumentation, its not a highlight but still very, very listenable.

Following that is another catchy single, “February Air”. I find this song generally inoffensive, but there are some who swear this is her greatest work. I find that a little far-fetched. The chorus is the catchiest thing this side of Miley Cyrus though, It leads to many a great sing-along moment. The dynamics and instrumentation of the track are far too passive for my liking. Still a great track where she shows just what her voice can do in a breakdown that is devoted to her singing at the top of her lungs.

The next track is one I find incredibly appealing, it is “Face Up”. It has the strongest chorus on the album with phenomenal chord progression. The rest of the song is passable with lyrics which provide a melancholy check to the uplifting chorus. It’s a great lesson in differentiation, highlighting her use of contrast to create a strong track.

From there we move in to her homage to World of Warcraft…yes you read that correctly, Lights loves WOW. I know, its weird. Of course the whole WOW connection drives me away from this track, as do the lyrics which are eccentric at their best part. If there is one song to skip on the album, its this one. Don’t skip the following track however,

“Quiet” is my favorite track of hers. Beautiful lyrics which build forward momentum to a excellent chorus. The chorus has strong instrumentation and builds off the created momentum by employing some of the best lyrical work I have heard. “Tell me when, you feel ready / I’m the one, there’s not too many / hold my hand, to keep me steady / just to be quiet with you”. Amazing. It is my clear pick off of the album. Her tendency towards softer dynamics allows this track to shine.

The album as a whole is worth multiple listens, it features great lyrics, solid instrumentation with many highlights and very few detriments. The only problems I have with it, is at times the album seems far too restrained and often formulaic. I want to see her “break off the chains / throw them away” and blow the listener away. She clearly has the vocal capability. The formula works, so there is no need to deviate too far from it, but the worst thing an artist can be is repetitive. We’ll see when the second album drops, what kind of artist she will be. She has a ton of potential and I can’t wait to hear more. If I had to give it a stock rating, this is clearly an 8/10, highlighting alot of catchy tracks and showing great potential.

The Show

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lights prior to her London show and she asked me if I was going to stick around. The answer…”HELL YES!”. There was no way I was missing the show, although I was interested to see how well her music would translate to a live setting. I was blown away by just how well it did, although my love of the concert may also be attributed to my love of Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale.

By the time the concert was over I was nicely intoxicated and loving every minute of it. Fear not loyal readers, I recorded the concert for reviewing purposes! Just don’t tell anybody…ok? The major complaint I had about “The Listening” was addressed in full, it always seemed as if her voice was overpowered by instrumentation on the album. Live, it was all about the power of her voice. Unrestrained and unchecked she overpowered her synth work and blew the audience away with her phenomenal performance. Her vocal work shined through, and she played EVERY song off of the album including “February Air” twice, which provided a great closing to the show.

 

After entertaining us for an hour, she brought out the acoustic to send us home, and it was phenomenal. Another highlight of the show had to be the random Phil Collins cover. I was there for her soundcheck, I knew what it was going to be like…I didn’t see this one coming. Her, and her two companions…one on drums, the other synth, blew the crowd away with a high energy rendition of “In The Air Tonight”. Great concert and well worth the cheap price of admission. Throw in 8-10 Alexander Keith’s and you’ve got yourself a hell of a night.

Why Should You Give a Damn?

If you’ve read through this entire column to get to here, you may be wondering why? Why should anyone give a damn about a Canadian synth-pop artist who has yet to make a major international breakthrough?

She’s got “it”. Whatever, “it” is.

Listen to the album, it’s filled with catchy pop tunes which feature strong dynamics and pretty strong lyrics for someone so young. She’s only 22, and she has been able to accomplish quite alot in the past year alone. She has been consistently on tour, and it shows in her performance. Her music actually lends itself well to a live performance, and it allows her great talent to really shine through. If these reasons aren’t enough for you, she is down to earth and a great interview. She’s great to all of her fans, and truly understands that it was her fans that allowed her to live out her dream. She’s humble, intelligent and incredibly attractive.
Sign win?

I don’t know what else I can possibly say to convince you to pick up her album or attend her shows… She can rock the keytar like nobody I’ve ever seen? I for one cannot wait to see where she goes from here, I strongly encourage all readers to look her up, you will be enchanted by this remarkable young woman, I know I was.

Look for “The Listening” in a record store near you, or on iTunes.

Watch for her to come through your city in support of Owl City. It should be a hell of a show if you can get over the screaming teenage girls.

Follow her on Twitter!

Lights

Follow ME on Twitter! Please? My lack of followers is embarassing…

Jacob Crogie

I am he, and this has been the FIRST, cherry-poppin’ edition of Information Overload!

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