Canadian electro-pop/rock singer Lights returns after a two-year hiatus with her latest album,Siberia Acoustic, which provides a stark contrast to her 2011 effort Siberia, which was filled with ample production effects and synthetic ideas. Siberia Acoustic eschews electronics (as well as drums), settling for acoustic guitars, piano, and cello. Additionally, the ‘unplugged’ edition of her former album is leaner, sitting 10 tracks deep and a brief 35 minutes in duration. Ultimately, while Siberia Acoustic shows Lights’ abilities and range beyond her established niche, it isn’t particularly innovative or mind-blowing.
“Banner” initiates the effort, shaking up the track ordering of Siberia. With thoughtful accompaniment from acoustic guitar and cello, Lights commands the minimal production with vocals that are as clear as a bell. While “Banner” isn’t an exhilarating ride, Lights heightens her emotions towards the end, achieving more vocal grit. “Cactus in the Valley” is more intriguing, bringing Owl City (Adam Young) on board for the duet. Lights continues to deliver, exhibiting a lovely vocal tone. Owl City’s vocals are most surprising; rarely has Adam Young sounded so smooth. The vocal blend between the two is superb.
“Where the Fence is Low” is another pleasant listen, but doesn’t trump the original in its stripped arrangement. Like “Banner”, Lights picks up the steam towards the end, which energizes the good, but somewhat unexciting acoustic cut. Once again, a duet seems to restore lost energy. Lights brings in Max Kerman (member of Juno award-winning band Arkells) on title track “Siberia”. Like “Cactus in the Valley”, the voices blend harmoniously. The best touch is how Kerman and Lights trade lines during the second iteration of the chorus. “Suspension” doesn’t kill the vibe per se, but it also doesn’t possess the same magic as “Siberia”. Still a solid revamp in acoustic form, “Suspension” is above average without reaching exceptionalness.
“Toes” graces the top tier of Siberia Acoustic. Accompanied by driving, rhythmic acoustic guitar with the addition of cello later on, Lights rises to the ‘vocal occasion’, with lovely falsetto and playful melisma on the lyric “toes”. Things are less noteworthy on the proceeding “Peace Sign”, featuring Coeur de Pirate. Solid like the multitude, “Peace Sign” doesn’t bring the electricity; it translates as more boring than musically stimulating. “Heavy Rope” provides some atonement, proving to be another ‘stripped’ success. Not a home run — reserve that for “Cactus in the Valley”, “Siberia” or “Toes” — but “Heavy Rope” gets it done. “Flux and Flow” is a somewhat sleepy penultimate cut, but “ … and Counting” feels like a smart song choice to conclude. Piano and cello intact to deliver the warmth, Lights sounds inspired by her backdrop.
All in all, Siberia Acoustic is enjoyable if sometimes bland. The antithesis of an album filled to the brim with sounds, this unplugged version fails to compel as much. Even so, it has its moments. Lights sounds superb throughout. Her vocal talents are never jeopardized, regardless of the musical canvas she is painting upon.