Canadian synth-pop songstress Valerie Poxleitner, aka the slightly more showbiz-named Lights, has cited such ground-breaking female artists as Kate Bush, Patti Smith and Bjork as inspiration for her third studio effort, Little Machines.
Despite the involvement of Mark Stent, the man who helmed Bjork’s 1997 opus Homogenic, the follow-up to 2011’s mainstream breakthrough Siberia actually has little in common with the Icelandic banshee’s work, save for the gorgeously glowing electronica of introspective opener “Portal.” There’s likewise next to no evidence of any Smith influence, and although the swooping vocal melodies of “Muscle Memory” echo Bush’s mid-80s commercial peak, Lights’ pre-release talk can overall be regarded as something of a red herring.
Indeed, far from the mix of new wave, angst-rock and avant-garde pop you might expect from the 27-year-old’s claims, Little Machines is pretty much a straight-forward electro-pop record which eschews the grittiness of its predecessor in favour of an 80s-tinged production and big shiny choruses.
It’s a formula which produces several potential hits, such as the galloping beats and the bubbling synths of “Speeding,” the euphoric lead single “Up We Go” and the utterly infectious “Same Sea,” which channels a similar Brat Pack soundtrack vibe as fellow Canadians Tegan and Sara’s recent reinvention. But it’s also one which begins to feel a little samey over the course of eleven tracks, with its second half in particular struggling to deliver anything beyond instantly forgettable.
Of course, having married Blessthefall frontman Beau Bokan and given birth to her first child, Rocket Wild, since her last album, it’s not too surprising that Little Machines finds Lights in a much more optimistic and content mood. But now that her edges have been smoothed, she may find it difficult to stand out from the ever-growing synth-pop crowd.