Son Lux is the grand genre-less dream of Los Angeles composer Ryan Lott brought to roiling, vivid life with the help of two New Yorkers, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang. Each is a writer, producer, and performer with omnivorous taste and a penchant for wild improvisation—a band whose mix of electronic pop, unusual soul, and outright experimentalism feels more inviting than ever on the project’s fifth album, Brighter Wounds. The songs therein leave behind Son Lux’s typically universal themes for deeply personal fare. While making Brighter Wounds, Lott became a father to a baby boy and lost a best friend to cancer. Days of “firsts” were also days of “lasts,” and the normal fears that accompany parenthood were compounded by a frightening new reality—Lott’s son arrived shortly after Election Day. These songs draw on all of that: warm reflections of a fading past, pain wrenched from a still-present loss, and a mix of anxiety and hope for a future that is promised to no one.
Lott’s voice, which ranges from ghostly whisper to choir-backed shout, is fittingly propelled by the trio’s most dynamic score yet. Listen to the anthemic roar of “Dream State.” A yell blasts through a cloud of woodwinds and synths, and the song is off on a ceaseless tear. “Though we are wide awake, this is a dream state,” Lott sings through the technicolor haze, clinging to opposites. A momentary breath breaks the stride, before the journey resumes with even greater abandon. A choir enters the fray at the song’s apex with a refrain heard elsewhere on the album: “out of the dark day, into the brighter night!”
Launched in 2008 with At War with Walls & Mazes, Son Lux was initially a solo affair, the result of a classically trained mind straining against the constraints of the medium, turning piles of self-sourced note snippets into pulsing digital orchestras. Across 2011’s We Are Rising and 2013’s Lanterns, Lott maintained his auteur approach while broadening the Son Lux sound and guest list to unexpected results. The latter album drew the attention of several major pop acts, many of whom who incorporated moments from the album into their own works. Lorde even teamed up on a redux of “Easy,” and covered the song on tour.
In recent years, the project’s list of collaborators has grown to include Woodkid, Moses Sumney, members of the Antlers, My Brightest Diamond, Olga Bell, and yMusic (who also contribute strings, winds, and brass to Brighter Wounds). Lott’s extracurriculars have included starting a rap-pop-folk band with Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti called Sisyphus, and scoring films like The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby and Paper Towns. Bhatia and Chang, accomplished soloists and collaborators in their own right, were first brought on as touring musicians but soon found a home in Son Lux, cowriting 2015’s Bones with Lott while on the road. Brighter Wounds initially took shape remotely—the distance allowing Lott to sift through life-altering events—and was finalized together.