“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. Lanterns appear glowing in the lyrics of Ransom, amidst a turbulent sea of strings, and as a coping mechanism on the mournful closer, Lanterns Lit. The poetic, thematic approach to narrative, and the music too, it’s all very grand. However on this album, Lott’s attention to detail as a producer, with his commitment to high-brow experimentation, finally elevate the songwriting from faux epic to the loftier heights he’s always aimed towards.
What’s been true for the length of the Son Lux’ run still holds true this time around as well. Lott has built a name by keeping the unexpected, like polyrhythmic morphing and tangential tone shifting, on deck at all times. His true gift though is his ability to lay these turns out in a manner that makes perfect sense as oddly interlocking figures and, amazingly, to do so with fairly sparse arrangements. The space created in the absence of clutter lends gravity to each sound, but that also means each sound has to be that much more perfect. Lott’s training is classical and his use of technique—from complexity of sound and sequence to his egg-in-a-vice command of restraint—make incredible use of it. He’s a master of subtlety, but seems to take pleasure in blindsiding the listener every so often for effect. The grimy bass on Pyre and the syncopated baritone sax blasts on Easy won’t leave your memory any time soon.
Vocally, Lott’s quivering lines and softly harmonized choruses convey the delicate strain of sincerity. You could take it as fey emotional hand-holding, but studied within the context of his music, anything louder would be too much. Taking focus from the intricacies of production would be the ultimate sin in Lott’s world, and both he and his small cast of contributors abide.
His themes have become more inclusive since the At War With Walls And Mazes warnings of weapons, enemies and betrayal. That evolution was as plain as the brightly colored album cover of We Are Rising, and Lanterns is just as bright, despite the dark artwork this time. The flowery staccato swirls of Lost It To Trying echo the joyful horn swing of All The Right Swings. Plan The Escape and No Crimes are largely uplifting, though the descending bass line and drum combo on Crimes sounds like Queens Of The Stone Age doing Go With The Flow Light; and pseudo-ripped Depeche Mode lyrics like, “All you ever wanted, all you ever need” make for the album’s most clichéd moment. This is really Lanterns‘ only misstep. Lott is a singular artist operating on his own plane. You may not hear many of his tracks on terrestrial radio, but he has a way of pushing your definition of accessibility, so you never know.