Listening to ‘Enough of Our Machines’, the seventh track on the latest Son Lux album, Lanterns, is a discombobulating experience. The song defies categorisation: starting off as a threatening piano standard, progressing through skittish folktronica with an orchestral tinge, and then throwing it all out in favour of a harsh bondage of percussion and bleeps, before finding a perverse, harmonious balance between all these disparate elements and coming to a gentle end. It is meticulously arranged, wilfully strange and yet undeniably thrilling, and that’s really Lanterns in a nutshell.
As the aptly-titled opener makes clear, this is an alternate world Ryan Lott has created, an odyssey thriving on a musical chaos that is almost unthinkable in its range and unbridled oddity. And as ‘Alternate Wold’s angelic gargle can attest, the use of the voice on this album is something to behold. A Greek chorus binds this shambolic epic together, and vocals are as vital to this symphony as any synth, sax or glockenspiel.
The peaks are numerous, but ‘Lost It to Trying’ is the real standout. Standing above the strange beauty of ‘Easy’, the slow-burning ache of ‘Pyre’ and the swirling ‘Lanterns Lit’, it is a blender, set to full speed, that produces the most marvelous of sounds. Initially, horns and woodwind instruments burrow a zig-zagging course as a celestial voice soars overhead, but the the crux of the song is formed of rapid-fire percussion and a simple, resigned lyrical hook (“What will we do now? / We lost it to trying”) that provides an emotional core amid the towering chaos. And it is chaos: a surely meticulous, organised chaos but chaos all the same; growing and accumulating more fascinating layers as it hurtles towards its conclusion, like a hurricane gaining momentum as civilisation threatens its path.
Follow-up ‘Ransom’ is far more icy but throbs with synthetic menace before violins start scratching away and the song takes a more manic form. ‘Pyre’ causes that same sense of uneasiness, both with moments of grandeur and seediness. The two seemingly oppositional sentiments unite in common purpose of displacing the listener from their comfort zone. By comparison, ‘Easy’ is disarming in its warped sweetness but just as outwardly odd; its plinking riff and dejected whistles make for a head-turning change of pace but the weirdly transfixing vocal is the song’s real hook.
The final two-song stretch of ‘Plan the Escape’ and ‘Lanterns Lit’ is more classically anthemic than Lanterns is generally allowed to be, but one cannot begrudge a final retreat to the middle ground, especially with such angelic touches as the latter’s heartening choir-organ combination. It’s a glorious, crystalising coda to an album that somehow makes sense of Ryan Lott’s scattershot musicality, and thrillingly so.