Amid a cacophony of vocals and a fluttering harp, an angelic chorus emerges on the opening seconds of Ryan Lott's, a.k.a. Son Lux, new LP Lanterns. Sonically it could be a fitting companion to Sufjan Stevens' (with whom Lott has worked with as part of the collaboration s/s/s) last LP The Age of Adz. There is experimentation between outdated acoustic instruments and future-aged synths, unapologetic choir interjections, and the sweet softness of a lead singer unconcerned with being macho. But thematically Lanterns is headed in the opposite direction. The Age of Adz was ahead on confrontation with the time and the place and the moment, which found a lyricist who had been known for forays into the distant past for concrete imagery and Romanticism, now focused on this moment, "This is the Age of Adz / Eternal living." Lanterns finds Lott seeking out an "Alternate world / Alternate age / Alternate light," on opening track "Alternate World." When the bombast dies away we hear Lott, who also sounds a lot like Stevens vocally, telling us "Oh we'll shed our skin / We'll walk the other side." Now the utopian escapism of the production has been met with the same reflection.
Lott does not have the same ear for pop melodies as Stevens, but that is not his fault. Son Lux is not a project as concerned with blending the pop sounds of the past with the grandiose possibilities of our Age of Adz as many Stevens records. But sometimes the utopian landscape feels overcrowded and forced. The pang of the organs next to the choral arrangements on "Ransom" or the fade out into string spasms on "No Crimes." It is not so much that they are too experimental for their own good as much as they distract us from, rather than compliment, the melody. Or in less pretentious language, they do not feel like the smoothly evolving spiral of great Stevens.
At his best Son Lux argues against the constant comparisons with his collaborator. "Lost it to Trying" re-imagines fluttering flutes alongside clapping percussions into something anthem ready, making the CHVRCHES' approval apparent. The early subtlety of "Easy" is a high water mark for the album. A simple piano groove that could be on the fringes of hip-hop or an ancient piano ballad.
But if Lott is tired of the comparisons with his past collaborator, the opening sequencing of "Pyre" does not do him much help. The in and out vocal styling, the crash and burn cymbals and chimes all suggest the opening coda of "The Age of Adz" or the middle bridge of "I Walked." This material is ripe for inspiration and reinterpretation, and Son Lux makes good use out of it adding his own well suited embellishments. It is probably unfair to stress the similarities as closely as we have, but when you so strongly echo an artist who has carved his own space, your work had better hold up. Only fleetingly do we feel this on Lanterns.
1. Alternate World
2. Lost it to Trying
5. No Crimes
7. Enough of Our Machines
8. Plan the Escape
9. Lanterns Lit