We Are Rising
We Are Rising is a conceptual fluke. In January, NPR proposed Son Lux’s solo member, Ryan Lott, a challenge: write and record an entire album during the month of February. Lott hesitantly agreed, an impressive endeavor considering he spent a long four years creating his debut At War With Walls and Mazes and now had to scale down his entire creative process to just four weeks. Upon first listen you might hear the hurriedness in Rising’s apparent improvised compositions. But like Mazes, Rising is an acquired taste. Lott demands listeners to sift through his mashed hip-hop beats and minimalist electro-meets-classical arrangements – many of which, like “Flowers” – build tangent upon tangent of stray, almost arbitrary passages – to discover the essence and voice within each piece. For this, the album may turn many people away.
As with Mazes, Lott flexes his classically trained chops by stirring up professional, elegant orchestral infusions into moody MIDI mix. “Chase” best portrays this mastery by twisting bits of trailing staccato string arrangements contiguously with an antithesis of break-speed electronic snare drums. “Flickers” is a solid runner-up, with effectual use of string swells and operatic bellows found on Lott’s debut. The only problem is, Lott doesn’t expand his knack for melding these disparate elements, he only revels in it, perhaps a consequence of his 28-day limitation. His boundaries restricted, what little spare time he had went to good use on the album’s finesse production value. The instrumentation is more lucidly recorded and coherently mixed, with various degrees of timbres used to create exotic, three-dimensional environments. “Claws” creates a bubble of sound by embracing rumbling, buzzing synths and complexly reverbed beats under shards of screeching noise and organic pianos; you can almost reach out and grab the layers.
This meticulous approach embellishes Lott’s arguably most unstable quality: his feeble, reedy voice (something listeners will either love or loathe). Intricate and manipulated vocal harmonies abound, Lott best complements the intensity of Rising’s highs and lows when his voice emulates modulated synthesizers, as on “Let Go.” Elsewhere, his whispery falsetto flits and quivers like a sad ghost trapped in limbo, often repeating brief phrases over and over in traditional Son Lux fashion. Lott’s poetry, which never breaches more than two or three minimalist stanzas, would easily benefit from added imagery and girth, but ultimately allows us to focus on Rising’s consistently mellifluous repertoire.
Rising has merits and shortcomings, but Lott impressively conquered his biggest obstacle: time. This in itself is most admirable, as he managed it without a recurring crutch composition like Mazes’ “Weapons” to draw the album into redundant concept territory. The tantalizing potential of tracks like “Rebuild,” “Flowers” and others is inhibited only a possible self-conscious obligation to satisfy classical lulls and climaxes. Hopefully such sound supernovas that drift fleetingly in and out or the album will dominate future releases, for it’s what separates Son Lux from other minimalists. For now, Rising, in its eerie beauty, will more than suffice as an unexpected release, but probably won’t recruit much of a new fan base.