Son Lux
At War With Walls And Mazes


4.5
superb

Review

by Nick Greer EMERITUS
May 22nd, 2008 | 73 replies | 12,070 views


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Think if Sputnikmusic's #1 album of 2007 didn't suck.

Burial's 2007 release, Untrue was an album that was preceded by its own intrigue and lore. Burial is a lone wolf of an artist, preferring to release tracks incognito and dance to the beat of his own Casio RZ1, and this little detail was romanticized by critics, adding to the albums' hype. Even the genre of dubstep was backed wildly by artists and DJs that sampled from the wild world of pop, r&b, soul, and electronica. Dubstep was to 2007 as grime was to 2006. Untrue even snuck onto the staff consensus list here at sputnikmusic.com like a Trojan horse, taking the #1 spot in a surprise jump over albums by Radiohead, Thrice, and The Kidcrash that had been stridently supported throughout all of 2007. However, after listening to the album a few times, I just couldn't get into it. It was too sparse, too brittle, too affected. I liked the notion of subduing dance tones to produce a rarified, artistic form of intelligent dance music that went in the opposite direction of the hyperdense Venetian Snares, but I really didn't think Burial pulled it off at all.

Enter Son Lux (Ryan Lott) and his debut LP, At War With Walls & Mazes, an album that I argue does fulfill the expectation that Burial left void for me. The first distinction is that this album is not dubstep. It shares the dry tones and highly detailed, ambient production, but the beats are not bound to any one pattern of style. This freedom of beat structure is because Ryan Lott is essentially composing in the genre of singer-songwriter, writing personalized lyrics and acting as a 1-man show, but his output is wildly imaginative, blending influences from trip hop, dark ambient, pop, r&b, and indie. His beats on one track could be influenced by trip hop ("Weapons"), then pop on the next ("Betray"), and soul slow jams on the next ("Stay"). The beats are not tethered to genre and thrive as a result. And as the genre changes from song to song, so does the pitched accompaniment. "Tell" is a beatless, somber lullaby, "Wither" is a grimy pop track (whose stuttering echoed beat almost sounds like Justin Timberlake's "My Love"). "Epilogue" is a synth epic in the vein of M83. The album's best track and single, "Break" is a centaurian song, starting off with a very naturalist breakbeat and vocal glitch sound that moves into a beautiful and personal piano ballad for its second half. Ryan Lott composes over a vast range of genres that breathes a distinctively different life into each song. In fact, not one song on this album is below the highest echelon of trip hop and electronic music.

These genres would never come to form if it weren't for the production, which is nearly flawless. It allows Lott to mix and match genres, as the distinction between different influences are seamless. More importantly though, it sets tone. Burial's Untrue, if will credit it for anything, had a distinctive tone. It was sparse and challenging without being overproduced or having a lot of different blips and noises. At War With Walls & Mazes takes the general idea of having an icy backdrop, and extends and decorates that world as much as possible. "Weapons" is a low-key track with a repeating vocal reprise that is made amazing by a spattering of Xiu Xiu-esque feedback swells, glitch vocals loops, and doubled vocals with octave manipulation. And these effects are all secondary to the beautiful arrangement of synthesized vocals, harmonica, violins, and piano. "Betray" is slow burner in the spirit of Portishead that has a crackling vinyl effect mixed in with tremolo flutes and a soulful bass lick. If not for the subtle detail to each of those instrumental inclusions, the track could be a mundane trip hop song, but with the carefully chosen tones and effects, the song feels sexy in the same way "Glory Box" does. I cannot praise the production enough. It allows for all of the genre splicing to work perfectly and elevates simple songs to fully orchestrated masterpieces.

In fact, the only thing I can flaw this album for is being too contented with its beat patterns. At War With Walls & Mazes is a subdued, downtempo album, and all of the beats have the tendency to blur together over the 44-minute run time. The album isn't homogeneous, but sometimes I get wrapped into the hypnotic drone of it all and forget how great the individual tracks are. This criticism isn't even really a criticism though, it's just a whiny comment. In fact, I should probably just shut up. How about just this: Son Lux's At War With Walls & Mazes, along with Have a Nice Life's Deathconsciousness, is a strong contender for album of the year. It is the best electronic release since Venetian Snares' Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett and puts our #1 album of 2007 to shame. It is nearly flawless, and the scary thing about all of this praise is that it's only his debut album.



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user ratings (64)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Intransit
May 22nd 2008



2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album is definitely great throughout. Certain standouts are head and shoulders above the others, but there isn't really a stand out weak song on the album.

Catchthe22
May 22nd 2008



95 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

my only beef is the lack of variation from song to song. Its good though.

br3ad_man
Emeritus
May 23rd 2008



2125 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

This album is so boring.

KritikalMotion
May 23rd 2008



2259 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I think it could of perhaps been a bit more exciting in parts, but overall this is a great album when in the right mood.

Wither is awesome.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
May 23rd 2008



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I wish an admin would restore my comments wink wink.

Brutal album.

plane
Staff Reviewer
May 23rd 2008



6073 Comments


Do it yourself.

McP3000
May 23rd 2008



3941 Comments


i agree with the summary in that Burial is bad

IsItLuck?
Emeritus
May 23rd 2008



4925 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

[quote=this]This album is so boring.[/quote]
but still, it's not terrible

br3ad_man
Emeritus
May 24th 2008



2125 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I just gave it a really low rating because Greer hyped it up so much and he's usually pretty spot on but this was so disappointingly dull. It's probably closer to a 2.5 or a 3 at best, if I'm feeling generous, but certainly no better than that.

I seriously can't believe people like this more than Burial.

Mendigo
June 1st 2008



2299 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Hell, this is awesome. one of this year's best albums, for sure.

KritikalMotion
June 27th 2008



2259 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Love it.

natey
July 31st 2008



4170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

tracks 2 and 3 are sickThis Message Edited On 07.31.08

Jom
Staff Reviewer
August 1st 2008



2593 Comments


I still don't understand the motivation behind slagging the staff consensus when it was you that pushed so hard for a staff consensus in the first place (and it's kind of amusing that you namedrop big name bands and then throw in The Kidcrash for good measure, despite the album being "stridently supported" by two people at most and then everybody else jumping on the bandwagon. In a way, it's a reflection of how convincing you can be with your colleagues; conversely, it also showcases how stubbornly pompous you can be with your connections).
I went in to listening to this record thinking it was going to absolutely suck because of the holier-than-thou verbal gesticulating but I was surprised at how listenable and accessible it was, especially with all the seamless mish-mashing going on. "Break" is a stellar choice for a single and a truly touching track, but the first 'half' of the album is clearly superior to the latter. Save for "Whither," the tail-end of the record loses my interest rather swiftly.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 1st 2008



16071 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Stuff is seriously underwhelming after reading this review though. It's a good album to be sure, and I think it might be "sonically" more interesting than Burial (to use Greer-isms), but Burial made me less disinterested in the material.

Digging: Trophy Scars - Holy Vacants

DFelon204409
Emeritus
August 1st 2008



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I still don't understand the motivation behind slagging the staff consensus when it was you that pushed so hard for a staff consensus in the first place (and it's kind of amusing that you namedrop big name bands and then throw in The Kidcrash for good measure, despite the album being "stridently supported" by two people at most and then everybody else jumping on the bandwagon. In a way, it's a reflection of how convincing you can be with your colleagues; conversely, it also showcases how stubbornly pompous you can be with your connections).

I went in to listening to this record thinking it was going to absolutely suck because of the holier-than-thou verbal gesticulating but I was surprised at how listenable and accessible it was, especially with all the seamless mish-mashing going on. "Break" is a stellar choice for a single and a truly touching track, but the first 'half' of the album is clearly superior to the latter. Save for "Whither," the tail-end of the record loses my interest rather swiftly.


I pushed for the consensus because I thought it'd make the list better in the end. I look at that list about once a week and am always so happy with the way it turned out. A painful process but the list is better off for it. I'm not slagging anything. Burial won fair and square and I stand by that decision. However, I still really dislike the album, regardless of its status. Also, think about how calling an album "like the best album of 2007 but actually good" works as a marketing tool. It feeds into that convincing colleagues thing. Apparently people don't share the same opinion on this album as much (which is actually quite in tune with how I feel about Burial compared to most others), but hey, people gave an album I care about a chance, which is satisfying.

continued in next post...

DFelon204409
Emeritus
August 1st 2008



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

...continuation

It's funny that you'd say the Kidcrash fans were all bandwagon jumpers. Obviously Radiohead transcends the hype from inside sputnik, but Thrice is much more popular here than they are in the real world (just check out metacritic). Keep in mind that Thrice was a niche genre artist until Vheissu, which expanded their sonic palette. I tried to hit on that in my review and people's responses in the comments and ratings suggest that there was a fair amount of "bandwagon hopping" for Thrice, not just as an alternative band, but as a post-hardcore band. Now that was 2.75 years ago so it doesn't really feel the same as The Kidcrash, but it's not too far removed. It took a special album to make people jump on the Thrice wagon. That Kidcrash album does quite a bit to overcome genre and has "unlikely" supporters. Three of the most typically indie (or rather in tune with bands that are repped by the metacritic ring of critics) staff reviewers (Lewis, Katz bros, and Iai) all gave the album a 4.0, suggesting that it's not just a great post-hardcore album, but something a little bigger than that.

understand what you're saying about the second half of the album (starting around "Raise" I'm assuming). I think the album loses its variety feel. The first half has really well-etched aesthetics for each song, whereas the second half of the album slows down a lot so everything blends together into a more chill, lo-fi vibe that can make it feel homogeneous. However, I think the actual songs are great, many of them feeling like poignant album closers. "War" with the album name in the lyrics and the really somber piano throughout feels like a beautiful denouement. I think "Epilogue" has a definite "Red Sky" (to bring back Thrice into it all) feel. The sense of a coda runs throughout the synth that escorts the album off stage. I like it all. Glad to see another staffer get into it. Maybe give it a few more listens. Maybe start with "Raise" and listen through. I think you may hear that and the remaining tracks as good trip hop tracks and not experimental electronic pop, which is more what the first half of the album is about.


plane
Staff Reviewer
August 1st 2008



6073 Comments


I don't care that you don't like Burial, but the way you tackle it in this review (especially one that I, and many other staff members, would argue really shouldn't be compared to at all in the first place) is just abusing your obvious power over a lot of the users here. I'm not saying you can't have the opinion, or even integrate it into this review (but still...), but why not in a more tasteful way? You make it the foundation that this review seems to jump off, which not only discredits the consensus that you are a part of (and are one of the most adamant about), but kind of the review itself. I would have approached this album a lot differently if you had simply praised it like I know you want to do, but that a lot of your points seem to be that it simply does this better than that (and you do this in a lot of reviews) makes it harder for people that actually did enjoy Untrue (quite a few) to see the album in the same way, or any other way.
It could explain a lot of the lower ratings, my own included, but I generally just find it boring to begin with. I'll go back and listen to it again before the year is over, but srs buzz kill.This Message Edited On 08.01.08

Eliminator
August 1st 2008



2067 Comments


Well if you're an idiot and don't understand the joke of subbing in a Greek letter which phonetically gives the first syllable of the word "music" then maybe you aren't smart enough to be listening to Intelligent Dance Music.

DFelon204409
Emeritus
August 1st 2008



3995 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

One trick pony.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 1st 2008



16071 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Its still induces a hearty chuckle.



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