SON LUX, THE MUSICAL MONIKER of Ryan Lott, is a classically-trained musician and composer known for his unconventional, beat-driven orchestral machine music. Lott, who studied composition and piano at Indiana University’s esteemed Jacobs School of Music, started out composing music for dance companies and television commercials. But he’s been releasing his own solo work since 2008, when he debuted his first full-length album, “At War With Walls and Mazes.” Since then he’s collaborated with artists from across all genres, including hip-hop artist (and former Anticon label-mate) Serengeti, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, and the young gun composer Nico Muhly.
Lott’s latest album, “Lanterns” (his third, following “We Are Rising”), picks up where “Mazes” left us: in a bleak, dark, industrial world of the future. But the new record is not all gloom and doom. Harder beats, blaring horns and scurrying strings shade this music a touch brighter.
The album starts with “Alternate World,” a glittering and pulsating track that sets the tone. Digital beats, an arpeggiated synth line and a lilting guitar layer in and out throughout the song. The Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile brings an additional fluttering mandolin line to the mix, making the song seem otherworldly. In “Ransom” we’re brought back down to the reality of Lott’s fictional world. Trembling strings mix with Lott’s manufactured and condensed computer noises.
The next track is one of the standouts on the album. “Easy” is simple and sparse, but it packs a punch. In a wavering, unsure voice, Lott sings a few short lines over the backdrop of a metronomic synth and surprisingly non-cheesy handclaps. The addition of bombastic horns are a highlight.
The album follows a loose narrative. Lott sings about literal lanterns lighting the way to … a way out or a better world? It’s not clear where we end up. The music itself conjures a dystopian world. Lott is just trying to break free.
In “Plan the Escape,” Lott and a pair of female voices vow to “leave the wasting world behind us / we will make it out alive.” The slow-developing, lush song is uplifting, but still dark. Electronic drum samples pair with serene piano melodies and sinister computer glitches. “Lanterns Lit,” the last track on the album, leaves us in a spiritual headspace. A creeping organ, an angelic choir and Lott’s intimate voicing will give you chills.
“Lanterns” is Lott’s grand opus, seamlessly blending elements of hip hop and electronic dance music with classical instrumentation and haunting vocals. His intricate and deliberate compositions transport you into another dimension.