Son Lux, within only a few years of existence, had carved out a neat little niche. Lanterns for better and worse, built its foundation on pop maximalism, channeled through rattling percussion, flickering woodwinds and an ability to make earworms that would eventually be sampled by Fall Out Boy. Lux, also known as Ryan Lott, also moonlighted as an indie-beatmaker when he teamed up with Chicago weirdo rapper Serengeti and Sufjan Stevens to form one of the most baffling, but delightful, supergroups in recent memory, Sisyphus. Neither Lott’s debut album or work with Sisyphus were perfect by any means, but Lott was, undoubtedly, a blue chip prospect, an artists on the cusp of a true and absolute breakout. So what the hell happened here?
Son Lux is now a trio, with drummer Ian Chang and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia coming into the fold, and Son Lux recently joined Glassnote Records, which also houses Mumford and Sons and Phoenix, but neither of those structural changes seem to be the culprits. Rather, Bones is a collimation of all the faults of Lott’s previous work. Bones is even more gaudy than Lanterns, Lott’s near operatic voice is pushed even further forward and he’s relying on many of the same rhythmic tricks from his last record.
“Breath In”, a short, confounding track, opens the album. It’s meant to serve as the curtain opening for Bones, but its skittering strings seem only tangentially connected to the next track, single “Change is Everything”. The choppy bass-synth is the only salvageable part of this track; Lott’s voice obnoxiously cracks and climbs into a high range he does not have a proper handle on as repetitive chiming notes combine with a thudding drum pattern that weighs down any energy the track could try to muster. “You Don’t Know Me” soon follows, and the dripping, dribbling synth droplets that open the song are even more annoying than Lott’s off-tune warbling.
Plenty of Bones’s missteps come from Lott’s vocal work or shoehorned keyboard moans, but Son Lux’s rhythmic structure, once solid, depressingly suffers here. Drum work playing off of its own logic can make or a break a song and the off putting mess Chang presents on “This Time” destroys every bone in the song’s body, and that’s before a mystifyingly bad “solo” from Bhatia enters the frame. Even on an already meandering album, “This Time” is far and away the worst song; a dozen questions arise from this mess and all of them are why?!
Son Lux’s work has been plundered before, and there are a few moments that might be sample worthy, ready to ascend from this miasma. Chang and Bhatia actually get one song to shine on with “Undone”, which nearly goes into math-rock territory, with Chang focusing on bouncy tom hits and Bhatia jittering his way across his fretboard, It’s almost enough to ignore Lott’s cheesy vocal work. The jagged “Flight” is the only full song that works here, thanks to scattered and booming synths and a catchy and light filled chorus. Finale “Breath Out” actually finds restraint, something sorely lacking on Bones and shows off some compositional chops from Lott.
And it’s all too little, too late. Outside of “Flight” and “Breath Out” all of the good moments are quickly washed out by waves upon waves of utter slog. Bones is such a profound step back for Son Lux that it’s hard to see the group recovering. These are the bones of something once promising.