In just one month, Ryan Lott produced a seriously strong, intensely evocative record and all because National Public Radio told him to. The man that is Son Lux spent February answering All Songs Considered’s RPM Challenge, in which an entire album must be recorded from scratch in a single month. On top of his own digital dabbling, Lott added contributions from friends in Midlake, The Antlers, and My Brightest Diamond, coming away with a fully-fleshed, well-orchestrated electronic album.
On his 2008 debut album, At War With Walls and Mazes, Lott showed his comfort with both electronic sound sources and traditional instruments, as well as the ability to blend the two. From the opening track, “Flickers”, on, it’s occasionally hard to tell what exactly is pulsing out of the speakers. Blasts of what might be low-octave melodicas or feathered synth wrap around Lott’s theatric vocals, later getting doses of broken drums and beehive strings. The whole thing comes off like the dark, operatic middle ground between Owen Pallett and In Rainbows-era Radiohead or Wild Beasts’ fantastic, operatic heights.
“It’s not your fault, no it doesn’t have to be,” Lott drones over the distorted bass drum and parade horns of “All the Right Things”. The scooped, caterwauling harmonies steal the show, though, the pack of operatic Lotts swirling and diving. The goofy, neo-tribal opening to “Rising” belies another solid, soundtrack-style piece. The slow-burning “Leave the Riches” relies on Lott’s controlled, Grizzly Bear-style vibrato and shuddering, dark-tinted percussion.
Everything sounds very narrative-focused, very dramatic. Even the simpler moments, like the low, quiet “Flowers” with its twinkling, octave-peddling xylophone and chiming church bells, shine with a writerly bravado, Lott’s creative genius readily apparent at all turns. Even more, when he grabs at the heart, as on the epic, guttural “Claws”, he powers through, finding even deeper, richer material.