Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Son Lux - Bones Review

As far as electro-classical experimental pop goes there’s fewer artists as acclaimed and vibrant as Son Lux. Sure, that title may be verbose and nullifying, but it doesn’t negate Ryan Lott’s ambidextrous approach to being a musician. His 2013 release Lanterns will soon be a staple of experimental music, combining a lyrical concept with unorthodox beatsmithing that amplified the stingiest moments on Sufjan Stevens Age Of Adz, minimizing the acoustic setbacks. For Bones, a record intent on maintaining structured principles while advancing an aesthetic, Ryan Lott is being joined by Ian Chang on drums and Rafiq Bhatia on guitar, both helping to further accentuate Son Lux’s diverse palate while also combating its minimal/maximal instrumentation. The finished product is a cohesive piece that fosters adaptive sonic textures, a bright, pristine digital template, and vocal melodies that’ll make Pop sensationalists wish for his radio play crossover without the odd beat switches. And while it’s not as memorable as his latest release, Bones is a worthy successor, one that decries verbally with the fragility of the human body, pounding it with rhythmic, volumetric drums and bass, offsetting those with gentle female vocals, to wallow in a mash of musical fidelity. 

The cover of Bones is noticeably in stark contrast to its predecessor, as lights descend from the sky with colorful hues filling up the foggy mass below. The drastic shift from the largely black attire Lanterns was fitted with brings a rising tide of brighter, louder instrumentation. The pedantic fluctuations found on Lanterns, where billowing explosions gave way to eery undertones, is largely missing here where, apart from the capping of ‘Breathe In’ and ‘Breathe Out,’ everything largely attempts to ascend sonically to a heavenly being; loud, lavish, and gung-ho. It leads to a breathless experience, but not in a good way, where pacing is thrown to the wayside for a volatile onslaught. See ‘Change Is Everything,’ the album’s lead single. An anthemic initiation kicks things off as Lott begins exposing his brittle, in-the-moment vocal hauntings before a pounding bass pummels the chorus like a punch to a brick wall. Even on the 20th listen the chorus renders listeners numb, so much so the follow-up track, ‘Flight,’ comes in disparagingly tame. It maintains a large mass, with rhythmic 808’s and harrowing flutes, but comes off much less formidable. Bones is largely a expose into the acceptance and execution of experimental beats, whereas some may fall flat with lack of initiative, others excel through sheer ingenuity. 

A clear indicator of that is ‘You Don’t Know Me,’ Son Lux’s quote on quote banger. Right from the onset the beat showcases its metallic, post-apocalyptic wings, sheathed in an ever-changing sonic vibration as its grainy, discombobulated coo wails out to signal the alarm. All the while Lott disguises a lyrical synopsis of one’s unbridled, perhaps ignorant, commitment to God, making references to drinking wine, kneeling before him, and idolizing through the stars. It’s Bones’ most thinly-veiled song, one that sheds some light on Lott’s direction lyrically. Whereas Lanterns divulged in a concept of existential escapism, Bones, as far as I can tell, has no linear story, choosing rather to focus on personal revival and understanding. Lott does this through revolution-like beliefs, constantly referring to the listener as “you,” in an attempt to get them to recognize injustices and act upon them. On ‘This Time’ Lott’s accompanying female vocalists shout “you are the one this time,” much like Lott’s reassurance repeating the title of ‘Your Day Will Come,’ both phrases venture to strive for a greater purpose in oneself’s. This culminates in the albums climax ‘Now I Want,’ where both voices come together in confidence of a better tomorrow, singing kumbaya, praising the worth of unity for all. The song acts as a baptism for the renewal of one’s self, the vocals reach out like a church choir. 

There are times towards the end of Bones where things reach a pinnacle sonically. While earlier songs feel conventional and commonplace, others, like ‘White Lies,’ risk to adventure into the absurd, crafting a structure that aims to cram an 8-minute epic into its paltry 5-minute duration, complete with a ravaging electronic breakdown. It starts like any other track, grasping at straws for its pop aesthetic despite a mischievous underbelly looming around every corner, mechanical malfunctions and bludgeoning bass reverberations cultivate and ascend throughout the piece before all hell breaks loose in its finale. It may be the most technically advanced track here, which causes its own pitfalls, as odd drumline processions force their way into the song uncomfortably. As Son Lux’s palate goes, strange instrumental choices nose their way into things as they attempt to maintain their experimental nature. If it weren’t for Rafiq Bhatia’s additions ‘Undone’ and its guitar-led progression would seem rather unorthodox by Son Lux standards, the song itself is reminiscent of In Rainbows-era Radiohead. Even with the more natural additions Bones largely remains an electronic affair, even surpassing its brethren Lanterns in terms of straying from Son Lux’s classical roots, a disappointing acknowledgement as the contrast was a huge inhibitor of Son Lux’s aesthetic. 

With that being said the occasional oddball choices Bones takes doesn’t discount its overall appreciation. The charisma floating through its wavelengths, the cacophony of sound and voices that fill its voids, the periodic inclusion of innate instrumentation, the inclusive conditioning of rising up and conquering, make Son Lux’s latest a sufficient collection to commandeer a euphoric moment. As Lott proclaims early on, “this moment changes everything,” and while sonically speaking that may not be true, as a message to the masses it means a whole lot. There are even times here where Lott repetitiously recites earlier sentiments, namely, “close your eyes, swallow the sun, you have only just begun,” an infantile statement aimed at widening childlike eyes to envisioning a newer, more enlightened world. His lyrics may be too shallow, his voice may be too brittle, his words may be too simple, but the meaning, the pain, the willpower behind them force one into accepting Son Lux as a tenacious being in experimental pop, where neither particular genre dominates, creating a subset wholly unto themselves. As sacred as Bones is it’s never fully religious, merely using the symbolism to maintain concrete metaphors to a higher being, much like Lanterns ended in Lott’s call for all those to follow, “I’ll keep my lanterns lit” he said defiantly. Bones is the answer to the listeners intrigued response. 

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