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"At War With Walls & Mazes"
Son Lux's debut, At War With Walls & Mazes, resembles the classical concerto. Electronic composer and Son Lux leader Ryan Lott is the soloist, with gentle, sparse vocals, against a backdrop of classical instruments. Occasionally a single organic sound rises behind Lott's utterances, like the bass guitar peeling away from the timberline drum creaks and overlapping whispers on "Raise". These are rarities; for the lion's share of the album's 45 minutes the mood is severe. Son Lux perches over a digital wilderness-- a wilderness of recreated crowd noise, cracked samples, and mutated loops. Laid out as a narrative (beginning with "Prologue" and tidying up with "Epilogue"), with sharp, direct titles ("Wither", "Stand", "War"), Walls & Mazes has a coarseness, a fatalism, between Lott and the landscapes he creates. It's a heaviness of heart relieved only when those interceding instruments (cello on "Stay", the supple, measured piano on "Break") twine with the vocals against the molded chaos.
But there are lights in the darkness and a holy ghost in the Son Lux machine. At War With Walls & Mazes is an album infused with a religiosity that's at times humble and unnamed and at times romantic. "Where have all the holy gone?/ Is there no one to condemn you?/ Where have all the wicked gone?/ Is there no one left to beat you down?", he asks on "Break". The imagery is clear, the sentiment classic, and the delivery hushed and awed. It's the sonic background that's so affecting. That twist in the combination produces odd troikas of comparison: the lyrical concerns of Sufjan Stevens circa Seven Swans, production techniques from Massive Attack, and the classical habits of Nico Muhly.
And even when Lott is playing for us here on Earth, the album's concerns are stained. "Will you love me/ Like he loves me?" Son Lux mews on the clinging, almost uncomfortably sensuous "Stay". That "He" should probably be capitalized. Later, on "Betray": "You will betray me baby/ And I will be true." (Sucks to be "You"). Lott is a performance artist at heart-- he's had his multimedia projects featured in the Guggenheim and produces as much music for choreography as he does for just listeners. As an album, Walls & Mazes may have moments of gauzy, near-inert tinkering-- "Stand" and "Tell"-- and it's no doubt an emotionally draining listen, but as a project, as an aesthetic, there's a resonant, engaging conflict. A good friend of mine once said there were only three proper subjects for rock songs: God, Girls, and Growing Up. Ryan Lott proves with Walls & Mazes that he's got the first one down. How orthodox will the next ones sound?