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Four albums in, and Lights has finally achieved her high concept potential. Lights' nerdy persuasions are no secret – the first video I saw of her's was a rough work-in-progress acoustic tune (which ultimately became ‘In The Dark I See’, the cleanest recording of which is one iTunes session from 2013) against a backdrop of a Covenant energy sword (from the Halo series), a stack of PC games and a pastel pink bicycle. It's no wonder that six years later, she released a concept album based on her very own comic book series. It's every painfully nerdy musician's dream. Skin&Earth felt like the coalescing of everything Lights had built up to that point, the crystallisation of her identity as a musician.
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For every mainline album, however, there is its acoustic equivalent. Every major Lights release has been followed by an entirely acoustic rendition shortly afterwards. Secretly, and somewhat controversially, these have always been my favourite Lights albums. The production is stripped back, the walls around her voice fall away, and her singing voice softens almost to a whisper. It's intimate, and tremendously affecting. Like a performance made entirely for my benefit. It's like I'm watching that YouTube video all over again.
Skin&Earth Acoustic is no different. But, much like the album that preceded it, Lights goes higher concept. Simple, unplugged recordings aren't enough, and entirely in line with the main album's environmental themes, every acoustic recording unfolds in a different location. Some natural, some unnatural. ‘Skydiving’ is recorded on a cliff top, ‘Savage’ in the pouring rain and ‘New Fears’ in the singer's own bedroom.
Every song has an all new level of impact when stripped of the main album's production. ‘Skydiving’ is a perfect example. The pace is slower, the spotlight is entirely on Lights' range which, if anything, the original version does a disservice to. I know which I'd prefer to listen to, which is less of a slight against the original Skin&Earth – one of the best pop albums of 2017, overshadowed only by Paramore's After Laughter and Lorde's Melodrama – but an indication of the unadulterated pulling power of Lights in acoustic mode.
Of course, Skin&Earth Acoustic is more than a new take on Skin&Earth, there are three new songs in the form of ‘Tabs’, ‘Lost Girls’ and ‘Down Forever’. Each is obviously written with the sole intent of being an acoustic song, but I'll be honest – I had to put the two albums' tracklistings side by side to be able to identify for sure which were new, and which were not. That isn't meant as a criticism in so much as it is a reflection of just how naturally Lights shifts into the acoustic realm. It is clearly not the singer's focus, which is shame, because I think it might just be when Lights shines brightest. Who knew that stripping away layers of production can give songs twice as much depth?
Skin&Earth Acoustic is released on 12 July 2019 via Fueled By Ramen.
More about: lights