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Posted on June 2nd, 2011 (12:00 pm) by Michael Cirigliano

For most artists, recording and releasing a new album is a labor of love that takes months, if not years, to bring to fruition. Ideas simmer, incomplete songs are discarded, with perspective often changing greatly over the course of composing the album. Given the typical length of the creative process, you can understand the absolute fear that must have been felt by Son Lux’s Ryan Lott when deciding whether to undertake the 28-day task of NPR’s All Songs Considered RPM Challenge: compose, record, edit and master a complete album in exactly one month’s time. In his finished product, We Are Rising, Lott rises high above the apparent constraints of the challenge, crafting an album of awe-inspiring beauty—one that fuses his classical training with elements of hip-hop, trip-hop, and even dubstep—that most won’t even begin to digest the scope of the album on its first listen.

A busy commercial composer by day, Lott crosses genre boundaries with incredible ease; resulting in a catalogue that spans classical composition, hip-hop production, and soundtrack work for a number of dance and theater companies. Writing as Son Lux, Lott has tackled a large number of remix projects for the likes of My Brightest Diamond, Beirut, Wild Beasts, and Radiohead. His debut LP, 2008’s At War With Walls and Mazes, displayed his adept musical personality, showcasing just as many electronic elements as acoustic, with a foundation of classical structures lurking deep below the gloss of the modern elements found above. As with At War, We Are Rising is a cohesively-constructed musical collage—a modern symphony of samples, wrenching vocals, and thunderous beats. To go through either album to try and list the sheer volume of references that come to mind with each passing track would be a huge undertaking, given the diversity of Lott’s musical tapestry.

Opening track, “Flickers” begins with an arresting chorale for woodwind and brass instruments, bringing Shostakovich to mind more than anything else found on Anticon Records, before bass and piano set the stage for Lott’s first entrance: “I can see the flickers, over me the lanterns raised, lift me up, lift me over it”. Lott’s voice has the iciness of James Blake, but with a greater sense of melodic breadth at work. Despite the seemingly disparate elements incorporated into his music, it is Lott’s voice that truly homogenizes the album. Through varied effects and layering techniques, Lott carries each track by embodying both triumphant star and melancholy troubadour.

“Rising” showcases Lott at his electronic best: walls of synth and percussion playfully dovetail with quieter and more restrained sections that rely on his unaltered voice, string pizzicato, and flashes of flute and cymbal. The track is simultaneously humble and grandiose; tender and operatic. Not since Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz has an artist so successfully merged orchestral and electronic elements so effortlessly, and much like Sufjan, the lyrics of We Are Rising provide a profound internal narrative without spilling over into blatant autobiography. On “Leave the Riches”, Lott chillingly intones: “Leave the riches, take the bones, I’m ready to be robbed, I’m ready for your thieving hand”. An echoed chorus of male voices takes over the dark sentiment, while choirs of females float above the dark bass beats, hollow atmospherics, and relentless drums. Whether there is a specific enemy that Lott wishes to express his despondence toward is not the listener’s concern—the focus is the drama of the moment, the human fear we all feel—and just as the richness of the thick texture reaches its absolute breaking point, a single line on a church organ brings the track to a resigned close.

We Are Rising is full of such moments of breathtaking beauty—the coda of “Flowers”, with its fluttering woodwinds, tolling bells, and washes of percussion; the playful stuttering of rhythm on “Chase”; the crunchy bass and industrial techno sound of “Claws”—that finding a standout track is a fruitless pursuit. They’re all confident, mature and, most importantly, completely unique. Lott excels at expressing his constantly morphing carousel of sounds, a very do-it-yourself approach that transcends the typical label of the “bedroom musician”. There is a versatile and studious approach to We Are Rising that belies its inception as a challenge of compositional speediness. Instead of being an interesting exercise in brevity, We Are Rising comprises a world of inspiration and abilities. In the hands of many artists working today, a hodgepodge of unfocused work would be the result of so much unbridled creativity. However, as Son Lux, Lott builds his sound worlds like an architect—with the end result being such a riveting display of talent that you would never believe (or even care about) the absolutely meticulous construction that went into making such a daring and impressive work of art.

Track List:

1. Flickers
2. All The Right Things
3. Rising
4. Leave The Riches
5. Flowers
6. Chase
7. Claws
8. Let Go
9. Rebuild

Son Lux: We Are Rising
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

90 / 100
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