Lights’s “The Listening”

Lights / The Listening / October 06, 2009
01. Saviour / 02. Drive My Soul

The distant chime of an ice cream truck. Glittery eye shadow. Childhood naivete. Welcome to the world of Lights, a planet where unicorns lap at silver rivers, first crushes are eight feet tall heroic giants with all the answers, and death is something that only happens to grown-ups. The Listening, cloaked in a mythical world of synths and dreamy keyboards that play hide-and-seek with the vocals, feels as invincible as its ethos. The entire record is an homage to forts and capes made out of blankets, a sort of fragile toy capable of shattering at the slightest mention of adulthood. Lost and not a little precocious, the entire record rests on the presumption that you will put on your thinking cap and use your imagination for the earnest show-and-tell and story time of the songs; at snack time, I’d eat the cookies but probably stay away from the Kool-Aid. Nap time to follow.

Though there are a few missing pieces akin to the blank features on Valerie Poxleitner’s face, these very grand, Swiss-cheese statements aren’t meant to find their missing counterparts within, but instead, adhere to the listener’s inner child, a sort of “Hey, what kid didn’t get made fun of?” approach that succeeds only because the lyrics are just vague enough to fit myriad experiences. Poxleitner’s vocals, hardly polemical, almost strain with the endurance to sound more like a twelve year old; unpolished, scratchy, and heavy on the nasals, it’s as if that desire to become a “little girl / without the weight of the world” isn’t just a heartfelt wish, but the driving credo behind The Listening’s kiddy manifesto. From whimsy to the scorn spurned by an unresponsive crush (“Why’d you have to go and turn to ice?”), to the muddled rebounds of second chances (“Second Go”) and the Saturday night video game marathon of “Quiet,” where she’s content to resign the disc to “no tragedy, no poetry / just staring at the sky.” She’s young, she’s super in love, guys, and that’s where she’s supposed to be.

But the transience is broken by “Pretend,” the album’s central conceit shattered by the reprise, the disc’s only mature track, a bare, piano solo where the lyrics sound downright depressing and voice less nostalgic desire than festering regret. “It would be nice to start over again / before we were men,” she remarks. In that case, just head back to track one. Ice cream trucks, glitter, unicorns, streamers on the handlebars of a pink bicycle; The Listening is a woman in a perpetual girl’s world. No boys allowed.

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10 thoughts on “Lights’s “The Listening”

  1. Noonan October 10, 2009 / 10:47 am

    Despite being a boy, I dig Lights, a lot. She’s doing a show at the end of the month.

    • Anna October 10, 2009 / 12:14 pm

      I kind of want to go.

  2. Noah Furlani October 11, 2009 / 8:21 pm

    Amazing album. There’s something about “Ice” that I find terribly Lagy GaGa-ish (though for me that’s not necessarily a bad thing–even the least stereotypical gay man loves her; the World is coming to an end, “2012” may be right on), and the synth of the album makes me want to put her in the same category as MGMT, but I find her sound frustratingly unclassifiable; but, like Lewis Black, I enjoy very much being frustrated. 🙂
    There must be a study somewhere that says that music tastes are biased based on the country you leave in. I, for one, find it very hard to dislike Canadian music (except for Nickelback!); don’t even get me started with my dear Feist, or even Rufus Wainwright, who lived in my city for a lot of his life.
    I would also like to second Noonan’s comment. I LOVE this album despite being a man. But I’m gay–some say that’s doesn’t count.

    • Anna October 11, 2009 / 11:29 pm

      Yeah, this is definitely one of my favorite albums of the year. Not sure which track is my favorite, it varies. Every single track is great, though, which is what sets it apart for me. And the “no boys allowed” comment is more another fun poke at the childhood aspect of it all.

      I look forward to more work from her, though I’m not sure how much longer the market will be open on this style.

      • Noah Furlani November 29, 2009 / 2:48 pm

        I went to her concert last night. Two words: absolutely amazing. I missed Lady GaGa on her debut on Friday, but I’m sure it was spectacular and glittery and catchy and amazing, but the fact that she was performing in a moderate-size room with our little group of fans (around 200, no more), and her cuteness (you say that she wants to be a child–she still is, if teenager counts XD) was so nice. Unfortunately, they made the beats MUCH louder so on certain songs (those less apt at being dance-ish songs like “Quiet” or “February Air”) the actual music was somewhat drowned out. But her voice was wonderful. For the encore, she did a cover of Phil Collins’ “In The Air”–EPIC. Her adaptation made all of us go wild. And then we all sung along to an acoustic of “February Air” and “Drive My Soul”. Everything was simply great.
        All to say that: if she is coming anywhere near you, YOU MUST GO. 🙂

        • Anna November 30, 2009 / 11:33 am

          Unfortunately I couldn’t make it when she came a few weeks ago. The show sounded like it was really great though – my friend (who posts as noonan – see above) does a weekly radio show and had the opportunity to meet and interview her backstage. I was so jealous!

  3. Lisa October 13, 2009 / 4:11 pm

    I’d like to hear this one as soon as my speakers are back! Your descriptions make it sound so awesome, and I am now reminded of 7-11 slurpees, PLF, marshmellow egg fights at our first sleep over, and hanging out in the basement.

    It sucks that we only get one childhood.

    • Anna October 14, 2009 / 10:22 am

      You need to take care of that speaker problem fast!

  4. Lisa October 14, 2009 / 12:29 pm

    ::sad:: I know, the laptop is back at BestBuy now, and I’ll be picking it up as soon as all this moving crazy-ness is over! Ahhh!

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