As time went on, and it became evident that The Postal Service was not going to release a follow up to 2003's Give Up any time soon, Adam Young apparently decided that "well, somebody's got to do it," and started releasing albums under the name Owl City. While not without its moments, Young's project is far too derivative, and sounds more or less like a cutesy version of its obvious influence. Lights is frequently referred to a counterpart to the former, but Canadian singer/songwriter Valerie Poxleitner (or Lights, to which she actually ended up changing her name) draws more balanced inspiration from indie and electronica sources as well as more pop oriented ones, such as Vanessa Carlton (who she's been compared to vocally), and somewhat ironically this results in the fresher affair.
Right from the beginning on opening single Saviour, Poxleitner's sweetly captivating voice lulls in the listener, atop the electronically chirping melodies. The Listening is overwhelmingly cute immediately, and as much as it borders on becoming too sickly sweet, the line is never quite crossed. This is due partly to the surprisingly good vocals (an outburst near the end of Drive My Soul is particularly startling), but mostly to the fact that the writing is so good; the hooks are so solidly constructed that even the sugary vocals and the schmaltzy lyrics become passable. It's because of this that the record's bubbly personality never gets to be too over the top; even on the absolutely terrible reference to a certain early nineties caucasian rapper on the rousing Ice, you can't help but laugh.
The Listening has spawned quite a few singles already, which was fairly predictable, seeing as the album is clouded with them. The previously mentioned Ice, which is the most uptempo number, thrives with its clever placement of synths and background vocals, with a bridge that is too charmingly energetic to irritate the way it should. The more downtempo title track and February Air benefit greatly from gentle verses being paired with more soaring choruses and how seamlessly they flow into their respective breaks.
The only issue is that Lights' songs nearly always fall into one of two categories, upbeat track or ballad. What's worse than that is how easily the songs of the same category can bleed together; after repeated plays it can get more difficult to tell different tracks apart, when the individual pieces should stand out more with each listen. Even if every song on an album is a good song, it doesn't necessarily mean that the album is good, and this is what brings down The Listening - it sounds more like a collection of hit singles than a solid debut effort.
The Listening is absolutely soaked to the bone with saccharine, but the songwriting is so sharp, and the hooks are so catchy, that the overabundance of kitsch is more than tolerable. It is best in small doses however, as eclecticism isn't exactly Poxleitner's strong suit, and the album's sweet disposition can get a bit cloying. Overall though, Lights shows a great deal of potential, and it will be interesting to see where she goes next.