Ryan Lott (the man behind Son Lux) was, in a sense, dared to make We Are Rising. NPR’s Robin Hilton pitched an idea borrowed from the music magazine The Wire: make a record, start-to-finish, in February, the shortest month of the year. After some initial hesitation, the unconventional project was agreed upon. The result is shamefully good. It doesn’t seem fair that an album thrown together so quickly would rival the year’s best releases, but it does. Lott’s ability to dream up, capture and manipulate sound allows him to overcome and even benefit from the limits such a project presents.
At times, chants like “we are rising sons” (from “Rising”) sound like prophecies of a newly forged race, and “Rebuild” opens up the music’s machinery in plain view, with a building sequence of horns, synth, beats, voices, and more that pushes the album to a close. But the tendency of receiving this work as an imagined soundtrack for an intergalactic voyage is a flawed, if not uninspired interpretation. There is an otherworldly transcendence here, but it is not of a generic sci-fi flavor.
Like all great art, We Are Rising transcends the earth, but remains grounded there. The sonic thrust takes the listener to an alley in another town more often than a disconnected, oxygen-less ship floating somewhere in the distance. The instrumentation, composed by Lott and performed by contributors, is altered while retaining an organic quality. Audible space is key to Son Lux’s sound—a typically understated (lyrics for the entire album might fill a page) and uncluttered ambiance that allows for absence, voids, and room for the songs to breathe. It is a very human sound, a rare feat for the electronic genre.
By necessity, Son Lux attributes most of the album’s direction to Lott’s gut. That is an extremely fitting description, as many of the songs get at a primal, singular expression in just one or two lines, such as the gripping “Claws,” while others like “All the Right Things” stir the listener in a mixture of competing urges like doubt, faith and hope. In the audible space, different instruments, beats, and samples are free to drop in and out, framing feelings of aching (“Flowers”), haunting (“Flickers”), exploration (“Leave the Riches”), and exuberance (on many refrains, including “Let Go,” which would fit comfortably on Sufjan Stevens’ The Age of Adz).
The architectural liberty that Lott shares with classical composers allows for this variety of human expressions to find its way into the music, fully. The album as a whole is, true to its name, an emotional ascension. Lott harnesses the composition, recording, and production by taking what was thrown at him, from his own mind and the contributions of others, and crafting something that sounds more ageless than rushed.
Rating: +3 on my true/good/beautiful doohickey.