Son Lux’s latest album begins tensely; melancholic and abrupt chords vying with glittering and muddled arpeggios, with Ryan Lott’s sighing, tired voice. It begs to break its bonds, and listening, you sympathise: ‘Flickers’ feels like it’s waiting for the drop, for a kick drum to cut through the air. And when it does, the release is satisfying and sweet, though not what you might expect: there’s no great end here, only the imposition of a rhythm section that feels like exhaling after holding your breath.
As an opening track, ‘Flickers’ signals We Are Rising as an album that requires concentration. Across its nine tracks something more is always going on than what seems to be going on, and the depths that can be plumbed are plenty: there’s a rumbling array of tones, a portfolio of glitteringly fast melodies and slow emotional dirge.
Take ‘Leave the Riches’. A truly excellent song, it marries musical grace with lyrical depth. The recurring line “Leave the riches, take the bones”, matched with the track’s creeping violin introduction, its slowly thumping electronic snare, is incredibly evocative, invoking strong and precise imagery: “I’m ready to be robbed / I’m ready for your thieving hand’, Lott sings, confessing “I’m ready to undress. I will become a breathing man; / leave the linens, take the bones”, and the song’s quiet reverb, its smouldering mass of instruments, creates a feeling of drama as if the narrator, waiting in a tomb for some assailant, is in a grand play.
“Play” is a word that aptly describes We Are Rising. Theatrical and frequently performative – it feels like certain tracks were designed as mechanisms for different personalities through which the handle “Son Lux” could operate – the album seems often to deal in movements of a kind, with ‘Flowers’ alternating between mysterious quiet and overly expressive set-pieces and ‘Let Go’, with it’s combination of fast and frantic flutes, clarinets and string trios, masterfully rekindling the tone of ‘Flickers’. In a way, though it’s different in style, it shares its D.N.A with Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz: like the Stevens album, We Are Rising is coherent, themed, comprehensive, and expansive, and it feels like an “entity” rather than a simple collection of tracks.
That unity is a real strength. We Are Rising is a genuinely impressive album; there isn’t a weak track, it’s well arranged, recorded and mixed, the songs are beautifully composed, and the players are expressive and stylish. And Lott wrote and recorded the whole thing in a month; February, the shortest month, at that. The achievement is almost depressing.