Son Lux: “At War With Walls and Mazes”

A paradox: At War With Walls and Mazes, the debut album from a kid named Ryan Lott-aka Son Lux-is one of the most eerie and otherworldly albums in recent memory, but it’s also one of the most gloriously human; it’s built primarily on the foundation of vast, chilling electronic soundscapes, but its overall effect is warm, enveloping, even intimate; it’s unquestionably the product of the digital age, but its tone is of restless, impassioned spirituality; and though in sound it may resemble Kid A‘s younger brother, in spirit it feels more like Beck’s Sea Change.

Such is the wonderfully contradictory world of Son Lux-as its title suggests, it pushes hard against any kind of boundaries, creative or otherwise, from the very first notes. Its sound is mysterious, but its concerns are utterly familiar, and, though most songs contain just a couple of lines, repeated over and over again like a prayer, it communicates profound spiritual truth.

You’ll hear the contradiction all over the music, which is electronic in instrumentation more than in actual style; Lott is a classically trained pianist, and, though he splices together wave upon wave of ambient sound with gurgling synthesizers and icy hip-hop beats, the album borrows as much from chamber-pop as it does electronica. The songs are all very much of a piece-like different snapshots of the same landscape-and there are acoustic guitars, organs, noise collages, thundering drums, and even an opera singer, with Lott’s own hushed, raspy voice and ponderous piano in the forefront. The cumulative effect is an invitation to intimacy, not of archness or alienation.

Even on his first album, Lott proves to be skilled at composition. The songs all sound similar enough that it’s clear the album is meant to be taken as one long suite-not as a collection of smaller works-but there’s enough variety in the tone and instrumentation for each track to stand out as an entity unto itself. And it’s sequenced in such a way that the dynamics of the album-sometimes spookily quiet, other times thunderously loud-gradually escalate, giving the album a narrative feel that begins with the sudden storm of drums at the beginning of “Break” before settling into a soft, gentle groove, gradually rising and falling until the gloriously noisy climax of dizzying drum beats and sampled opera vocals in “Stand.”

But if the music suggests a narrative, the lyrics are more about poetry and meditation. Lott draws his words from spiritually suggestive words and phrases-sometimes straight from Scripture-and twists and turns them with his tongue, over and over, examining them in many different contexts, to hypnotic effect. Lott’s songs, taken as a whole, reveal a tapestry of images and ideas about faith and doubt, about fidelity and betrayal, about power and weakness, about the excellencies of divine love and the failings of human love. It begins with an invitation-or is it a command?-to “put down all your weapons/ let me in through your open wounds.” It considers faithfulness from the perspective of the faithful (“You will betray me baby, and I will be true/ I only ask, may I share dinner with you?”), then turns it around on the next track: “Will you love me like he loves me?/ Or will you stay?” Lott confesses doubt and faith with a single couplet: “Cloth in skin a pile of dry bones/ then I will know for myself who you are.” And the climax is a stirring affirmation of need: “You stand between me and all my enemies.”

Lott may not be one for wordiness, but, with just a couple of lines in each song, he’s able to communicate an astonishing amount of truth about the human condition. Even better, he says a lot about the Divine, too, but in such a way that it’s relatable, clothed in humanity, never preachy or didactic. It’s a strange, stirring, and stunning debut from a young artist who already sounds like he has his own unique vision, and though it demands a lot from its listener, it pays it back in spades, making it an unusually rewarding album that gets into your head and stays there for as long as you’ll let it.


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