Posted on June 22nd, 2015 (11:00 am) by Matt LaBarbera

O who shall, from this dungeon, raise
A soul enslav’d so many ways?
With bolts of bones, that fetter’d stands
In feet, and manacled in hands

—Andrew Marvell, A Dialogue between the Soul and the Body

Perhaps it’s some sort of trickle-down from New Age spirituality, but we generally favor a holism when it comes to the issue of our own body and mind. I am who I am, through and through, from the sizzling synapses of my cerebrum to the materia dura that makes up my physical architecture. However, this view was not always a popular one and, as Marvell notes, the relationship between mind and body can in fact be an antagonistic one. This dualism, along with the concomitant notion that the mind—or soul or however that immaterial selfhood could be best conceptualized—would be better served extricated from the corporeal cage, forms the primary conceit of Son Lux’s newest album, Bones. Conceptual, but not a concept album, Bones takes on a narrative of transcendent release and freedom, of dissolving into spirit, of being truly without structure—social, anatomical, realistic. However, the same concept that Marvell explores with humor and elegant, yet morbid imagery, is left childish and inane in the hands of Son Lux and his production. Mired by uninventive, uninteresting production and terrible, cliché-ridden lyrics, Bones as both a musical and conceptual endeavor is an utter mess.

Most are probably familiar with Son Lux through his recent collaboration with Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens, Sisyphus, but he has been making hyper-maximalist, ham-fisted electronic pop for nearly eight years and Bones is certainly his nadir. He has always been known for his love of big sounds—horns, choirs, and his own vocals—but his compositional capabilities simply fall apart here. There’s certainly some lack of variety, especially when all the songs on the first half of the album start with a synth stab and slight percussive melody before launching into vocals, but there’s a deeper issue. Like the famous Hemingway on Faulkner quote, big sounds do not mean big emotions. The Yeezus-style, stadium horn blasts on “You Don’t Know Me” are more obnoxious than grand and even more so when paired with the middle-school insistence of the ineffable self throughout the lyrics. The vein-popping vocal hook of “Your Day Will Come” invites the exact same criticism: Son Lux can sing loudly, but that doesn’t necessarily enhance the emotional impact.

Aside from the tendency to stuff his production with these baroque embellishments, the music is otherwise unremarkable. More often than not, it’s basic downtempo electronic pop, synth heavy with constant irritating vocals. Out of all of the cuts on the record, the most interesting moment, in terms of his production and, surprisingly unmarred by his kitchen sink composing, is the end of “White Lies.” The song prior is pure pap, a creeping violin-heavy number with groaner lyrics—“But we wake with bright eyes now / Ours is a white lies town”—but he lets it all fall apart with a ripping electric guitar and clanging deep break filled with strange yelping voices. It’s the only exciting moment on the album, the only time where he drops the artifice and onus of his poorly formulated concept and does something fun.

Given the importance of vocals and the recurring motifs—bones, flight, freedom, breath, swallowing the sun—no discussion of Bones can ignore its greatest failure: the downright awful lyrics. “Flight” features such choice lines as “Let’s be anyone but us tonight” and “What a noise we’ll make drowning out our mistakes, we can’t erase.” Forgetting the semantic contradiction of the latter line and the conceptual contradiction of the two together, there’s just a strange juvenile quality to his lyrics, a calling out for attention in the simplest, most puerile way. Subtlety is not the strict distinction between good and bad writing, but “I feel you tracing my scars, but you don’t know me” has to have been cribbed from some poor pre-adolescent’s poetry.

Marvell’s poem has no easy conclusion. The soul is wracked by the pains of the body, oscillating between sickness and, worse, health. The body is no fairer, forced to endure the insurmountable vexations of love and hate, fear and hope, joy and sorrow. Each is caged by the other and the struggle of life is acted out in this dichotomy. Son Lux’s take on this binary is wildly different, seeing the mind as the only thing worth a damn. His narrative of shouting his bones to dust, sloughing his skin, and finally experiencing freedom is escapist and when you remove the pretense of the bombastic, overwrought production and dissect the concept and the way he approaches it, you find something strange: he's a little kid and he wants to run away from home. There are no metaphysical stakes here, no reaching to answer difficult questions. Pure and simple, Son Lux wants to clamber out his bedroom window and set off for some circus or wizarding school. Bones hopes that by blanketing the listener in a booming, electronic orchestra, it can avoid being spotted for what it really is. It’s weak compositionally and weak conceptually. It throws up façade after façade, affects a deeper voice, and even pencils on a moustache all in an attempt to conceal starry eyes and childish rage. Perhaps, Son Lux’s, and Bone’s, biggest problem might be one of marketing. After all, this is the perfect music to score a film adaptation of a schlocky young adult novel.

Track List:

  1. Breathe In
  2. Change is Everything
  3. Flight
  4. You Don't Know Me
  5. This Time
  6. I Am The Others
  7. Your Day Will Come
  8. Undone
  9. White Lies
  10. Now I Want
  11. Breathe Out
Son Lux - Bones Review
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

35 / 100
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