Lights - 'Siberia Acoustic' Album Review

by - Thursday, April 25, 2013

currently: ANZAC Day. Lest we forget the men and women who sacrified their lives for freedom not only in New Zealand and Australia, but the world.

It was early Tuesday morning when I received a surprising email from a company called Rock Steady in LA. Very few words written in the email, but said all that was needed to:

Hey Mel,
Here's a promo review stream of Siberia Acoustic:
...
Let me know what you think...
Cheers,
Jason
Well Jason, can I just say you personally made my week, maybe my month, and neither of these are even over yet. Never have I received an email from a music company to review an unreleased album, and never has it been from one of my FAVOURITE artists ever. So I am beyond honoured that you emailed me, a little blogger from New Zealand, and shared the Siberia Acoustic album with me. Thank you!

So with that, I bring to you a review of Lights - 'Siberia Acoustic'.

Some people think of acoustic albums as a music marketing ploy; like a cheaper way of releasing a brand new album but with less work. After all, an acoustic album only requires an artist to play the same songs again with an acoustic guitar. No need to hire a dude to play drums, no need to spend hours producing.

But acoustic albums should be more than just a lack of instruments. There are acoustic albums which, when wearing a good pair of headphones, take you away to a quiet place. Acoustic albums are meant to bring you a feeling of intimacy, with the rawness of a voice and the breath of each word.

In my last review of Lights' music, I described her as a "Canadian synth electric princess... a sweet powerpack of sound". And while she is still a Canadian powerpack of sound, this acoustic album shows that her talents stretch further than being a "synth electric princess". Her reworked songs bring a fresh life and lightness (pun not intended) to songs that were previously weighted with beats and bass. And those who doubt Lights' vocal skills and accuse it of always hiding behind "layers of autotune" will have no arguments to hold with this album.

The arrangement of songs on this album is different to the original Siberia album, which definitely highlights a different array of songs. While the track Siberia opened up for the original album, Banner instead is the leading track, which brings a better and more upbeat opening than what Siberia (acoustic song) could. Lights knows how to control where vocal power is appropriate in this song, and the addition of strings is a real nice settling touch to the plucky guitar.

Cactus In The Valley was already the most "acoustic" track of the original Siberia album, so stripping it back further was going to be an interesting execution. But, with the addition of a clean piano, layers of strings and the featured vocals of one Adam Young (also known as Owl City), she's really refreshed this track. In fact, I think I prefer this version more than the original. Removing that grittiness of keyboards and harmoniously pairing Adam and Lights feels like this is how the song should have been made.

Cactus In The Valley is not the only outstanding duet on this acoustic album. Peace Sign was a welcoming surprise to have female artist Cœur de pirate sharing the track. And not because it was a duet between two great female voices, but mainly because Cœur de pirate sings in French! I listened to this album while I was working, and for me to be surprised with sudden French was one of the most exciting moments of the album. To go further than pairing voices to pairing languages is contrasting but beautifully cohesive at the same time. It would have been nice to hear them harmonise together though, with Lights in English and Cœur in French, rather than verse by verse. Bilingual words aside, Peace Sign is a great little plucky guitar track, and while it may not have that same magical and trancing sound as the original, it still maintain the same energy.

Songs that were previously strong in the original album aren't exactly the strongest on this acoustic album. While Flux and Flow was considered such an iconic song for Siberia, I find And Counting… a more beautiful track. While I considered it "a bit flat and tired" before, the acoustic version takes away all that extra noise and brings it back to the natural essence of Lights with a piano and some strings. With these natural sounds, Lights uses her voice to build a strong climax and backs that voice with emotion.

However, one of the songs I struggle to like more is the title track Siberia, featuring Max Kerman from Arkells. Something about his voice with Lights doesn't mould the right way, sounding too strong to compete with Lights. Instead of layering two sounds into one, their duet feels more like two sides fighting to be the dominant voice. Lights is able to pair back to the mood but Max's voice appears to struggle for that amount of control. It's not a horrible song at all, but that lack of cohesion is noticeable. It reminds me of Taylor Swift and Gary Lightfoot (from Snow Patrol) on the track 'The Last Time', where Taylor Swift lacks that control to pair her voice with his. While it's not a direct criticism of Max's vocal skill, there is more work that could have been done to that track to better blend their voices.

Though I haven't been able to hear all eleven tracks on this album (the only song being Timing is Everything left out of the promotional review), the overall feel from these acoustic songs is refreshing, raw and moving. Lights' vocals are able to shine without the layers of dubstep and electronic, and I feel if Lights and I were in a room alone together with instruments, this is how she would play. There is an intimacy to this album that makes you just want to keep these songs to yourself and away from full volume speakers. All you would need for this album is a quiet place to close your eyes and a set of headphones to your mp3.

Stand out tracks: Peace Sign, Catcus in the Valley, And Counting, Where the Fence is Low
For people who like: Owl City, Ellie Goulding, Lights' original album.

LIGHTS' album 'SIBERIA ACOUSTIC' is out April 30th 2013.

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