A Lights acoustic album has become somewhat of a tradition ever since Vancouver-based singer/songwriter Valerie Poxleitner released an unplugged companion, the nattily titled Acoustic, to her 2009 debut, The Listening. She followed that up with 2013’s Siberia Acoustic, in which cello, guitar and piano replace the gritty synths of 2011’s Siberia. Her current outing, Midnight Machines, reworks six songs from Little Machines (the 2015 Juno’s pop album of the year) and adds two new tracks.
In most acoustic albums, one of two things happens: the musician either offers up forgettable, unnecessary renditions saved only by the inherent charm of playing unplugged, or the stripped-back format unearths new interpretations and hidden possibilities of well-crafted songs. Midnight Machines achieves the latter.
Lights is a capital-S songwriter who can turn a phrase, craft beautiful metaphors and write pensive lyrics about being young and meeting the world for the first time. In Same Sea, she writes, “Oceans we are in, still connect / And when the currents circle back again / They’ll carry us with them to the arms of the same sea,” leaving you wondering if she’s singing about being in love, espousing a Zen philosophy of life or both.
Like Sia or fellow Canadian Grimes, Lights has an electro-pop side that combines bubbly beats with mature lyrics. At any moment you can be sweating on the dance floor while contemplating your life. She never gets as dark as her compatriots though, stripping songs like Up We Go and Running With The Boys to their bones and recasting them as plaintive recollections of career sacrifice and childhood nostalgia respectively. The album’s only drawback is an overreliance on strings, which can make the arrangements slightly samey.
Top track: Muscle Memory
Lights plays the Danforth Music Hall as part of CMW on May 2 and 3. See listing.