Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Record Review: Son Lux

Son Lux 
At War With Walls and Mazes
 [2008, Anticon. Records]

At War With Walls and Mazes, the debut album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Son Lux [pseudonym of Ryan Lott], is an intriguing, ambitious affair. The album is a well-crafted amalgam of the far-reaching influences from which Lott draws. Walls and Mazes is the sound of a chamber orchestra that leaves behind the pristine concert setting to roam gritty urban streets, their instruments mingling with the visceral ambience surrounding.

An undeniably laconic album, the abundance of musical ideas bombarding the listener at any time further accentuates how few lyrics are present here. Each song (all titles are composed of a single word) contains a brief passage that is repeated for the song’s duration. While this may seem tiring and tedious, it’s very effective here. Songs like “Weapons”, and “Raise” employ their words in a form of earnest supplication. Other songs (particularly “Break” and “Stay”) ask simple, yet grave questions. 

Lott’s classical background and electronic/hip-hop interests are evinced on many songs through his unique instrumentation. There is equal emphasis on horns, woodwinds, and strings as there is on stuttering rhythms and jazzy bass lines. Fragile piano melodies (“Stand”) are just as prevalent as crisp synth arpeggios (“Prologue/Epilogue/Weapons”) and pulsing, steady synth leads (“Whither”). Fuzzy, overdriven electric bass and turntables meet piano and dissonant strings beautifully on “Raise”. “Tell” is the intimate sound of (what seems to be) muted marimba, slide guitar, and a grand piano. The cohesion between such disparate musical elements is very refreshing. Though it treads heavily in modern and classic forms, Walls and Mazes is better suited to a stereo system with an ample low end than a concert hall. It’s the fusion between “high” and “low” art that makes the album work so successfully.

The climax of the album comes with “Stand”, the strongest and most breathtaking track on the album. Ominous, rumbling piano chords serve as a heavy foundation for Lott’s relatively weak tenor. His repetition of the line “you stand between me and all my enemies” sounds very dubious, as if the singer is repeating the line for reassurance. At the 1’47” mark, though, ‘You’ (most likely God) comes through as promised, and Lott is delivered. Clattering drums threaten to lose form completely as thundering piano chords fill the floor, while octaves ring out in the air above. Amidst all the chaos is Maria Callas’ confident, otherworldly soprano [Lott sampled several notes of an aria featuring the famed singer, and spliced them together to form a new melody for this piece]. At the track’s finish, Lott’s whispered mantra sounds believable not only to the listener; it sounds as if he believes it, too.

At War With Walls and Mazes is heavily spiritual, but never overbearing or unwelcomingly so. Most of this album seems a paean to the almighty, and is always very endearing and honest. Rather than isolating, the spiritual elements here are universally empowering. Earnest lyrics partnered with humble delivery can easily be perceived as just cloying, contrived devices, but the combination feels genuine here. If any weak moments exist, they come from the relatively dull and forgettable “Betray”. Despite a [very] mildly disappointing track, Walls and Mazes is a very impressive debut from a creative, promising new voice.


Buy it

Video: "Break"

1 comment:

Roberto said...

Sweet post. When I get enough money, I might pick this up.