Review Summary: Leave the wasting world behind.
There’s a moment about halfway through Lanterns’
opening track “Alternate World,” after Son Lux composer Ryan Lott’s synth arpeggios, flickering vocals, pulsing bass, and trip-hop beats have ascended to stratospheric heights, when he finally pauses, gently suspended in orbit. The music dissolves, leaving only the soft hum of synth arpeggios as Lott glances back towards the earth he's left behind, and in his signature fragile voice, teetering on the edge of breaking, asks a simple question: “Don’t we make what we can?” For a composer whose expanses into abstract, electronic territory seem to know no bounds, it’s a strange thing to hear Lott convey such hesitation and doubt about his musical direction. In fact, much of Lanterns
presents a conscious tension between the Artificial and the Organic, the Analog and the Digital, and even more consequently, the Need and the Excess, with Lott pondering the line between what you can
create in music and what you should
Yet despite his concern that the further he delves into synthetic sounds the more he relinquishes his soul, Lott is by no means holding back the ambition on Lanterns
. Second track, and deserving single, “Lost it to Trying,” features exploding bass saxophone, fluttering flutes, and cacophonous drums, displaying Lott at both his most versatile and volatile. It’s far and away the highlight of the album, and one that showcases his tremendous songwriting talent when he forgoes the conservative.
What may be a little too predictable, then, is that the remaining seven tracks on Lanterns
follow a similar pattern of balancing modesty vs. lavishness, with Lott largely losing his battle to restrain the artificial. Sometimes the expansive musical approach is effective (e.g. the unrelentingly energetic “No Crimes”), and sometimes the conservative musical approach is effective (e.g. the minimalist, trip-hop-centric single, “Easy”). However, there are some instances where Lott’s hesitations to indulge the grandiose (or scale it back) are less than fitting, and while I hate to be a backseat composer, I can’t help but think “Pyre” could have benefitted from a shorter runtime, and closing track “Lanterns Lit” could use just a few more instruments to make for a more colossal finale. Still, the problems with Lanterns
are really just gripes, and do little to diminish the overall effect of Son Lux’s third release.
What makes Lanterns
such an important step in Lott's career is that he's questioning his own musical direction, and the implications of it--something that not many artists do (or at least are brave enough to admit doing), and while Lott may not have found his answer to that defining question on "Alternate World," the closing track ends with him expressing at least some solace: "I'll keep my lanterns lit."