Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Joyful Noise
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Neo-Psychedelia
Part way through Lanterns, Ryan Lott, the producer/composer behind Son Lux, confesses “I’ve had enough of our machines / I’m giving up and I am letting down” over glassy piano chords and pizzicato strings. It’s the tactile sound of resignation, intoned imploringly by a man brought low by the very things that fascinate him. But just as they are dismissed, the machines return.
On his third album as Son Lux, producer Ryan Lott returns with Lanterns, an intricately assembled album of delicate harmonies and solidly crafted beats that sits at the intersection of bedroom pop and left-field production. Where his last album, the quickly written and recorded We Are Rising, was an exercise in gut instincts and intuitive songwriting, Lanterns feels more carefully laid out without feeling overthought. With its dense layering, the album always feels like it's in motion, constantly shifting and changing in a way that makes its deliberate construction feel like nothing short of a miracle as the album effortlessly drifts along.
A standout track from the third Son Lux album, titled Lanterns, “Easy” floats along on a subterranean thrum, half wistful and half foreboding, with a curious beat that sounds like a violin pluck crossed with a bowed saw crossed with a kicked cat. The music is low and quiet, the mood both creepy and lulling—that is, until the song is interrupted by a fat blast of bass saxophone. It’s just four notes, but it drastically changes the song with a flatulent audacity.
Somewhere unstuck in time is Son Lux, born Ryan Lott, still trying to navigate his way through relics of the past and curios of the future. At 34, he’s a consummate dilettante, moving seamlessly from, say, inventing instrumental patches used in the score of the time-traveling sci-fi movie Looper to producing beats for Anticon rapper Beans. That’s the heady hip hop label that put out his first official pop album, At War With Walls & Mazes, a collage of organic and electronic samples matted together under Lott’s completely breakable voice.
There’s a riot goin’ on, but I’m not sure if it’s in my head or in the grooves of Lanterns, the latest electronic soundscapey concerto concoction from Son Lux. I’d like to think it ain’t just me, that the ethereal melodies and neo-classical conceits of Lux’s songs are clashing mightily with his desire to pummel us with disparate sounds, to assault us with all the manpower his mighty collection of MIDI plugins can muster. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am.
Restraint has been the watchword for composer/producer Ryan Lott’s output as Son Lux so far. His 2008 debut At War With Walls And Mazes, 2011?s follow-up We Are Rising, and to some extent last year’s s/s/s project with Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens, were knotty affairs, with Lott’s now-trademark blend of classical instrumentation and electronic textures building towards soundscapes at once lush and elegantly reined in. His music is far from minimalist; at any given moment you might encounter synthetic basslines splashing against orchestral flourishes, full-throated choirs trading turns with Lott’s own quavering vocals, or twinkling piano sections underpinned by the kind of pistol-whip beats that more frequently populate hip hop’s low end.
“I can see the flickers, over me the lantern’s raised/Lift me up, lift me over it/Show me what you’re hiding, take me out into the sea/Lift me up, lift me over it. ”Those lines are from Flickers, the life-affirming opening track from Son Lux‘s second album, 2011’s We Are Rising (which followed 2008’s style-defining debut At War With Walls & Mazes). Much of the prose that Lux (multi-instrumentalist/singer/producer Ryan Lott) paints upon his third LP, Lanterns, consists of similarly lofty allegory and vague spirituality, including the recurring lantern imagery—a symbol of hope and safety in the midst of some necessary journey.