There is a small restaurant at the meeting of Manhattan’s East Village and Lower East Side that specializes in making meals that mix tastes that don’t normally go together: sausages and oysters, fish paste and liverwurst – you get the idea. The idea sort of scared me but also sort of intrigued me. In fact, I spent a weird amount of time thinking about this restaurant. But I still wouldn’t eat there. After almost a year and much poking and prodding by foodies and friends, I got the guts to eat there and guess what? It was awesome. BUT OF COURSE IT’S AWESOME! The head chef had spent years and years training and apprenticing – living and breathing fine cuisine for years – mixing, matching and experimenting. And of course she weeded out each and every flavor combination, each palate cleanse and each spice that was too much risk and not enough satisfaction. Her years of experience made this kind of risk taking magical. Son Lux’s new album, We Are Rising is just like that restaurant.
Sparse electro beats, entire violin sections plucking a rhythmically, vibraphones, midi horns playing fugues, dub bass lines, tympanis – We Are Rising is a musical smorgasbord, but a smorgasbord prepared by a master. Keep in mind, Son Lux’s Ryan Lott was born to do this. He is a trained classical composer and arranger. Dude’s also a sick hip hop producer. But there’s a whole lot more to We Are Rising than Stravinsky meet the RZA. The playful strings and horns echo vaudevillian carnival music and the beats are as lean and hungry as 90s IDM. Melodically, Lott skips and jumps all over the place yet his idiosyncratic reedy singing voice holds it all together. In the hands of another, less gifted arranger and engineer, We Are Rising would be a mess, but again, this is a trained, artistic voice who knows what he wants and exactly how we wants to do it.
Much has been written about the story behind We Are Rising. NPR’s RPM challenge is a public radio-powered attempt to document someone’s attempt to make a recording in a 28 days and Lott was this year’s model. The publicity behind the story has really raised Lott’s profile but the real hero here is the achingly beautiful and daringly presented music. His maximalist approach sounds like a cross between Illinoise-era Sufjan and Four Tet. His complicated arrangements risk sounding scattered and messy but Lott’s technical ability and respect for clarity ties all the disparate sounds in a nice little bow. Impressive.
“All the Right Things” sounds like a carnival ride created by Brian Eno with Lott singing, “It’s not your fault, no it doesn’t have to be,” over-and-over as if comforting a kid who feels guilty for things he hasn’t done. I really recommend giving We Are Rising’s a headphone listen or two. The track titled “Chase” has a fantastic staccato string arrangements and a super up-tempo beat. “Flickers” echoes the string swells and almost operatic singing on Lott’s debut but honestly delivered in that high, tight vocal style popularized by Isaac Brock but done by many these days. However, even here Lott somehow sounds fresh and original. Again, impressive.
It is ambitious music, spicy, risky and original but wholly and fully realized like the way only a master can prepare.
Words: Stephe Sykes