Lights has been building up to something special in her career, and that something special is her fourth album, Skin & Earth, released in September 2017. Personally, I have only recently started listening to her songs, but I am already a big fan.
In 2009 Lights took home the Juno Award for Best New Artist, and in 2015 she won Pop Album of the Year for her third offering, Little Machines. This year she has been nominated for two Junos: Pop Album of the Year and Artist of the Year, plus she was asked to perform at the awards ceremony on March 25th! With Skin & Earth, the talented electro-pop singer-songwriter has built a wide aesthetic landscape around the songs, a total environment in which her music, artwork, persona and alter-ego all seem to exist as parts of one complete vision.
Along with the fourteen tracks on Skin & Earth, Lights has added a series of original comic books to the mix. The stories revolve around a character named Enaia Jin, who is kind of a reflection of Lights but one who pushes into some darker corners, exploring anger and conflict and sex. With this twist, Lights seems to have found all the formats required to express herself, effectively building an art-world of her own to inhabit. Add to this the fact that she is a powerful live performer, and everything is really clicking. The underlying theme is, perhaps, the need to fight through personal struggles and find beauty in those quiet, everyday battles.
There are some obvious stand-out numbers on Skin & Earth. ‘We Were Here’ is a trippy piece of pop in which the protagonist makes her mark on a night out in a bleak city. Here is a snapshot: ‘Photobooth, kissing you, midnight bulletproof / Night so hazy, lay back lazy / Slow burn, fighting words, show them how the fire works / Make an impression, teach ‘em all a lesson.’
‘Giants’ is upbeat and promises to be huge in concert. Listeners will immediately get hooked by the anthem, in which Lights pushes back at defeatism, driving forward with the idea that everyone can find a space to stand tall. ‘Oh this city towers over us / All our problems make us powerless / Let’s get somewhere where the both of us / Come rising up, come rising up.’
Lots of other tracks on Skin & Earth deserve close attention.
‘New Fears’ and ‘Morphine’ chart interesting psychological territory. ‘Skydiving’ digs a bit deeper than one might think at first, keying in on the idea that fear can hold all of us back from so much. ‘Get a little unruly’, Lights sings, ‘No guts, no glory.’ One of my personal favourites is ‘Almost Had Me’, which is a perfect mixture of heartbreak, relief, and happiness. ‘Moonshine’ has a summery vibe and a free feeling, making it seem like you can do anything.
Traces of the vast conceptual sweep of Skin & Earth – the songs and the comics – can be found in some of the earliest work from Lights. On her first album, The Listening, she introduced a comic book character, Captain Lights. Looking back, this seems a bit tentative, but the idea of expanding beyond songs into cross-over media was there. Fantasy art inspired some of the album artwork and overall direction of her second album, Siberia. This may be seen as a transition point, where the artist recognized the significance of blending life and art. As Lights explained to Andrew Gunn in a January 2012 interview, she changed her name originally to make sure that she could draw material from both parts of her life. “You don’t want your music life and your personal life to be too separate because one draws so much from the other, and vice versa,” she observed at the time. “You would be doing yourself a disservice to feel like you’re living two different lives. So everything is pretty seamless, and everything is one thing.”
It is inspiring to see everything become truly seamless on Skin & Earth. Lights is currently on tour in Canada promoting the album. Our STEAM City Media crew will be at the concert at the London Music Hall on Saturday, April 7th. We are looking forward to the show!
Review by Jenn Klassen with notes from Andrew Gunn