Son Lux is incapable of making an uninteresting song. On their new album, Brighter Wounds, Rafiq Bhatia’s hypnotizing guitar licks, Ian Chang’s slurred drumming, and founder Ryan Lott’s warbly falsetto and intricate production give listeners a glimpse into the eclectic future of music.
The trio are known for a wide array of innovations in electronic music. Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is their experimentation with complete sonic unpredictability. Brighter Wounds is no exception. Its sound design is wholly unique: Each of the 10 songs are characterized by a distinct blend of drums, synths, guitar, and other tones, with Lott’s piercing vocals as their pivot. The album’s bold pairing of orchestral and electronic elements is without compare.
Theatrical and evocative, the album is a murky mix of dread and poise. The lyrics of Brighter Wounds trace the tragic journey of an unnamed protagonist “out of the dark day into the brighter night.” Son Lux’s engaging and poetic songwriting employs a narrative depth normally reserved for higher forms of literature.
“Forty Screams,” the opening track, indulges in painful sorrow. The lyrics are apologetic, defeated, and retrospective. The same tone unfolds in the album’s monumental single, “Dream State.” This hypnagogic ode to childhood propels the album’s plot, posing a host of unsettling questions that the character desperately attempts to remedy throughout the rest of Brighter Wounds; namely, “will we survive in this, our new wilderness?”
Experimental slow jam “Labor” is where the character’s story begins to unravel. During its brief refrain, Lott’s vocoded vocals implore the character to come to life, and leave the listener teetering between turmoil and tranquility.
But it becomes abundantly clear in “The Fool You Need” that unease is Son Lux’s bread and butter. Vaguely hopeful but unmistakably dark, the track features Lott’s sharp vocals cutting through clanging drums and forlorn tones swimming around the stereo field.
Slipping deeper into melancholia, “All Directions” describes a struggle to remain emotionally cognizant. Sonically true to its name, it seems to place its listener in a chamber with orchestral drums, strings, and twinkling synths swelling and striking from every angle.
“Surrounded” lifts the album from its gloom, though not towards hopefulness—rather, towards overwhelming awe and disarray. This track best highlights Chang’s drumming virtuosity and Lott’s ever-impressive sound design, particularly during its concluding drum solo.
Brighter Wounds finishes with “Dream State (Brighter Night),” a revitalized rendition of the earlier track of the same title. Suitably named, the track escapes the album’s sonic darkness but not its thematic pain and grief; it perfectly captures the irony of escaping a dark day to a brighter night. The listener is left feeling lifted, although like they have taken one step forward and two back. It is the perfect ending to an album that rejects resolution.
Compared to their past projects, Son Lux seem to have begun to more heavily embrace huge shifts in dynamics in Brighter Wounds. Within many tracks, the band crafts phrases in which sounds blend and intermingle into a single massive crescendo. A number of others, notably “Surrounded,” implement industrial drums and atonal phrases. Lotts also tinkers with vocoders throughout the album. However, despite these experiments, Son Lux have largely compounded on the most appealing elements of their music in the album; Fans of classic Son Lux tracks, like “Easy,” and “You Don’t Know Me,” will not be disappointed.
Though listeners might be able to draw parallels between certain tracks and the work of other artists, the album as a whole cannot be neatly defined or classified. Despite being unquestionably avant-garde, Brighter Wounds manages to retain a satisfying compositional structure. A testament to Son Lux’s work ethic and attention to detail, each item on the track list necessitates multiple listens, but can also be enjoyed without toilsome effort from the listener. For fans new and old, listening to Brighter Wounds is a must.