In terms of artists who deserve more recognition, Canadian synthpop prodigy Lights Poxleitner is near the top of the list. Her debut The Listening released under the radar in 2009, and was a high-quality collection of catchy synthpop, some of which was excellent and demonstrated a lot of artistic potential. Her sophomore effort, Siberia, on the other hand, was far more experimental and musically ambitious, even incorporating elements of dubstep before it entered mainstream use. Her third album, Little Machines, interweaves the pop sensibilities of The Listening with the lyrical maturity of Siberia, yet still clearly indicates growth that makes it all the more clear that she deserves far more mainstream success and a wider audience for her music.
This is clearest in the case of lead single, ‘Up We Go’, one of the most exhilarating pop songs of the year, which would be a definite hit with a big name artist. ‘Up We Go’ isn’t particularly complex, but its simplicity only highlights its charms: the punchy production and powerful vocals (some of the best of her career) combine to create a monumental rush. The song is perfectly formed, with to-the-point lyrics enhancing its appeal; in particular, the anthemic chorus, culminating in “From down this low / Only up we go” offers an unabashedly optimistic message you’ve heard a billion times before, but, like all the best pop songs, this one will take root in your brain.
The second single ‘Running With The Boys’, a dreamy recollection of times past, has gentler verses exploding into an invigorating chorus which bridges into pop-rock territory. The throwback 80s vibe of the track, with New Wave guitars and shimmering synths, marries perfectly to the lyrics of the song to create a cohesive theme which makes it a joy to listen to.
The singles are followed in the first half of the album by a succession of strong tracks, all of which would make perfect singles. The tracks have the same strong blueprint, blending 80s-reminiscent synthpop with memorable lyrics which never fail to catch on in the first few listens, making for distinctive, endlessly repeatable pop songs: ‘Muscle Memory’ in particular is a standout, a marvellous ‘disco-ballad’ that is lyrically heart-breaking yet pulsating and danceable in the vein of modern Scandinavian pop icons such as Robyn and Annie.
The second half of the album is where some cracks start to show: the aptly titled ‘Oil and Water’ feels like it was written for a different album, mired in a gloomy haze; the song isn’t bad, but it doesn’t fit on such a vibrant album. Meanwhile, ‘Meteorites’ feels like a reductive version of ‘Up We Go’, with energetic production yet lacking the killer chorus to elevate it to the same dizzying heights.
The problem with so many pop albums is that they date themselves when trying to chase trends of their time. However, in being so shamelessly retro in her inspirations, Lights avoids the standard pitfalls, whilst the less technological elements of tracks bring her away from sounding like an 80s tribute act and dated on release. Moreover, her lyrics are perfect examples of how sometimes “less is more”, and she has found a perfect balance between them and the music. Every song is good on its own merits, even if when compared to others on the album some are clearly weaker than others. Little Machines is definitely well worth the listen for anyone who is interested in solid pop music, and proof that Lights deserves to be far more successful than she currently is.