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Son Lux -- Lanterns

by Alex McGrath on November 10, 2013

While listening to Son Lux's Lanterns, I had a lot of fun imagining a physical orchestra playing his compositions. The idea of the impossibly fast interplay between instruments, the comically bombastic horn breaks, or the effects-laden choir that populate Lanterns existing in a real-time performance is an absurd notion. Son Lux writes big music. Much of it is Phillip Glass-like in its execution, particularly one album highlight "Lost It To Trying", where dizzying horn lines slash across the piece in alternating rhythms. However, the songs on Lanterns are more often aspire to be anthems than experiments. They are imbued with a sense of forward motion and bombast, and sound best when they are at their most frantic.

Arguably the most fascinating aspect of the album is the instrumentation: everything sounds halfway synthesized. The harp flutter that opens the album on "Alternate World", as well as the horns that close "Lost It To Trying" exist in the uncanny space between real and synthetic, just a little too fast or just a little too plastic sounding to exist in real life. Lanterns also features plenty of synthesized vocals, a sound that has appeared frequently in Oneotrix Point Never's work and much of the vanguard electronic music this year. But, more importantly than academic speculation, the sounds on this album are gorgeous and compulsively listenable. It's very easy to get caught up in the sounds and not pay attention to the song itself, especially on "Easy", where the songwriting is nothing special but the instrumentation is glorious (is that an Ondes Martenot I hear?).

This is representative of the larger problem of Lanterns. It doesn't really feel like it belongs anyplace, because it straddles so many genres and classifications at once. Its instrumentation is decidedly "experimental", but it relies heavily on choruses; its sounds belong to the world of electronic music, but act as if they were acoustic. Which is not a bad thing, lots of genuinely interesting music defies easy classification. It's just that Lanterns sometimes ends up inheriting the flaws of one genre rather than its strengths. "Easy" for example, has the repetitive elements intrinsic to techno or electro, but remains inert, never really developing into anything. Similarly, "Plan the Escape" uses the anthemic elements of indie rock, but just ends up meandering over its five-plus minutes. The album, in general, sounds best when it's at its most frantic. The everything-all-of-the-time complexity of "No Crimes" makes for a captivating song and a great showcase for the sounds that Son Lux produces.

Lanterns is an album of many great ideas and the ground between academic and pop music is very fertile. But Son Lux's execution of ideas is often spotty; for every song like "Lost It To Trying", there are two that meander and fail to become a suitable home for these gorgeous sounds.