“For most of human history, music has been produced by the direct actions of human bodies, of people affecting their environments. Cognitive science has shown us that when we listen to music, we imagine the movements that produced the sounds and rhythms we are hearing.” — Rafiq Bhatia.
When Ryan Lott released his first solo album in 2008, he had no idea it would transform into the electronic trio Son Lux. Composed of Lott, percussionist Ian Chang and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, Son Lux collaborated with artists like Lorde and Sufjan Stevens and gained exposure by scoring soundtracks for films including “Paper Towns” and “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby.” Released in 2016, Son Lux’s most recent LP, Stranger Forms, is a precise combination of all three member’s talents and explores topics of loss, survival and rebirth. Impossible to categorize and extremely layered with complicated musical techniques, Stranger Forms epitomizes Son Lux’s electronic sound and encompasses what they hope to achieve in the future.
The opening track, “Cage of Bones,” is oppressive, heavy and dark. Lott’s raw vocals rasp out lyrics that twist and question everything that is taken for granted when he sings, “Oh what a noise we’ll make / Drowning out our mistakes / We can’t erase.” Ending with a series of record scratches and staccato drums, “Cage of Bones” makes the listener uncomfortable, which seems to be exactly how Son Lux wants to start its LP.
“You Don’t Own Me,” featuring Hanna Benn, sounds like something off a James Bond soundtrack, opening with bright and aggressive brass and spending the first full minute with a full swing band before the lyrics finally kick in. It showcases Son Lux’s unconventional approach to a traditional style of music and places more focus on the instruments, rather than the vocals. Intimate, heart wrenching and ethereal, “Change Everything” shifts gears as Lott croons, “A stranger’s form, your skeleton / See the bones glow as they break free.” With a swelling and unapologetic chorus that sets the listener back on their heels, Son Lux releases a brilliant show of emotion in the span of ten seconds.
The strained vocals of “We Are The Ones” juxtaposes the backing choir repeating, “We are the ones this time.” While the listener questions the message, lyrics of, “Now a breath / Now a name you’re calling / Mine is the one this time,” seem ominous and breathtaking as the background track of women chanting, “Now, now, now,” becomes overwhelming.
Son Lux saves the simplest track to close the LP. “Breathe” employs an echoing piano and quivering violin to provide a fitting background to Lott’s uncluttered and innocent vocals singing, “Breathe in / Breathe out.” It serves as both a mantra and a nugget of advice for not only Son Lux’s listeners, but for themselves.