Son Lux Bones

[Glassnote; 2015]

Styles: electro-chamber pop, indie pop, trip-hop
Others: Sisyphus, How To Dress Well, Owen Pallett

In a recent NPR interview, Ryan Lott, whose roster of past collaborators is long and estimable, reflected on the fact that Bones is the first project under the Son Lux name that was a group effort, comprising Lott, drummer Ian Chang, and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia: “Collaboration’s always been at the heart of what I do, but I’ve never welcomed [anyone] other than my own ego into the inner sanctum. […] This is the first record I’ve made with a band, and in that sense we’re forming the foundation or the bones of something greater.”

Bones, as the title implies, sees Lott attempting to tease a living emotionality out of the “clean, architectural” beats that demarcate his comfort zone. Thus, Lott’s reference to the Son Lux project as an “inner sanctum” is useful in trying to understand both the album’s mission to find new evocations and the ways it holds itself back from that exploration. Lyrically, themes of liberation and reinvention pervade the album, from “Change is Everything’s” “See the bones glow as they break free” to the “Breathe in, breathe out” refrain that surfaces on occasion throughout. In fact, the album is perhaps even more pulmonary than skeletal in purpose, with Lott repeatedly expressing an interest in letting fresh air flow through his sanctum. This is the source of some of Bones’s best moments, as when “Undone’s” tightly-wound rhythm gives way to a gentle chorale and a daydreaming guitar solo.

Too often though, Bones’s relation to its potential seems more like a corset than a skeleton. The instrumentation on tracks like “You Don’t Know Me” and “Now I Want” seem to bear down on the songs themselves such that the tender core of the music feels chronically smothered and drained of exuberance. With a little more room, it’s possible to imagine Lott’s voices could explore more interesting territory than the squarely rhythmic declamation that characterizes Bones. It seems, however, that too much of the production is nailed in place on top of itself for the sounds to seep into their natural shape, setting the tone in a no-man’s-land between intimacy and intimidation.

In a lazy moment that I can’t remember very clearly, someone once pointed out to me how strange it is that every person you meet has a skeleton inside them. From this perspective, the questions “Are we now what we’ll be?/ Are we fixed or free?” (from the chorus of “Flight”) can be asked of Son Lux themselves; like a skeleton, Bones is neither fixed nor free; its purpose is locomotion as much as self-containment. With careful pruning and expansion, it’s possible to imagine a more arresting sound coming from Son Lux’s current elements; but if Bones is too densely packed to inspire, at least that’s a good quality for a foundation to have.

Links: Son Lux - Glassnote

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