Brighter Wounds by Son Lux

Release date: February 9, 2018
Label: City Slang

Brighter Wounds begins with the sounds of an ailing record player, squeaking and dipping in speed. This metaphorical struggle and determination to carry on mirrors that of the past couple of years for Son Lux’s Ryan Lott. Since 2015’s Bones, Lott has had to work through the emotional toil of a close personal friend dying, a son being born in need of immediate CPR, and the harsh realities of the world into which his son will grow. Unsurprisingly the tone of this album is more overtly sorrowful than on the previous record. It appears to come from a much rawer place. It is infused with the drain of aches. And so it is a more mature release, filled with weight of experience and the weariness of suffering.

Even from the opener ‘Forty Screams’ it is apparent that gratification will not come immediately to listeners. This takes a while to sit with you and sink in. Individual layers seep out and slowly make themselves known. Rather than chasing the numerous flitting threads, let them approach you and see what emerges. ‘Dream State’, however, roars into life with a cry that urges unity amidst anguish. He exclaims “Out of the dark days and into the bright night” for night is a time for subterfuge and plots and this is an anthem for standing up and fighting adversity. Musically this is grandiose and reminiscent of The Drift era Scott Walker.

On ‘Dream State’ a despondent piano leads the way. Joined then by strings that skyrocket to the very edge of their limits, straining and exerting themselves to the point of breaking. Echoing the stresses involved in bringing life to the world. Baths-like glitches then seem to suggest struggling eyelids, half-gasped breaths, and a twinkle of consciousness as the semi-begged refrain of ‘Come to life’ repeats.

‘The Fool You Need’ is a stuttering stomp of nervous synth leads and brash brass from yMusic. The reiterated line of “I am not letting go, no matter what you do” comes across as a statement of unwavering faith from a voice that trembles as it is sung, acknowledging the heft and importance of these words. This is followed by ‘Slowly’, a truth-centric soulful trip through a dream pop amble. But, in this instance, the focus is on the need to insulate and be insulated from the brutality of actuality.

There is a looming sadness which engulfs this record. Something that cannot be so easily shaken off despite inherent pop sensibilities. On ‘All Directions’ climbing strings and sombre piano notes are clouded by booming kicks as Lott opines “Weren’t we beautiful once?”. Skittering guitars and rambling toms then taken centre stage, weaving through one another as if mounting a panicked search for a lost child in a surging, choral crowd. This line of approach soon becomes too much and it all disperses, leaving us with the solemnity of ‘Aquatic’. An ode to a recently departed friend. All things trudge on: melancholy piano chords, muted percussion, and dignified strings. This is the sound of a decaying autumn.

‘Surrounded’ is a swift change of pace, though, with rolling drums that fit somewhere between a breakbeat rave and the agitated thunder of war. Its rhythm is the sort of heartbeat caused by impotent adrenaline. Pacing in need of purpose. The line “History deletes itself, we’re holding on to something else” becomes a battle cry, heralding a hope for change whilst perhaps lacking an exact plan of action. It feels like the musical equivalent of the famous cry from Sidney Lumet’s Network.

The wounds of Brighter Wounds are very apparent but the optimistic first half of this title is much more hidden. Glimpses of positivity have to be sought out. Perhaps the clearest and boldest moment on the album comes with the closer – Resurrection’ – which begins in a bleak place, announcing that we should “Watch as the silence and protest fails us” over dirty electronic bass tremolando. Here, the term “Resurrection” comes across as potentially interchangeable with “Revolution”. Subtle ambience builds into resplendent orchestral swells and gushing pageantry and there is a call back to ‘Dream State’s lyric “Out of the dark days and into the bright night”, imbuing this finale with a cheer for progress and aspirational transformation.

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