A mix of sadness and dread looms large over Son Lux’s Brighter Wounds. As composer and singer Ryan Lott began constructing the album, he welcomed a child into the world, lost a close friend to cancer, and saw our planet increasingly engulfed in political turmoil, three events that factor heavily into both the album’s sound and lyrics. The music is dense and frequently claustrophobic, as if to mirror Lott’s cluttered and tumultuous state of mind.
The classically trained musician and electronica mastermind—who founded Son Lux as a one-man band before expanding it into a trio—enlists a number of collaborators to achieve this intricate sound, which is always rooted in synthetic sounds but leaves plenty of room for acoustic instrumentation. In addition to Son Lux regulars Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang, Lott welcomes jazz trumpeter Dave Douglass, composer DM Stith, and various string players to create the album’s nervous tension and symphonic soundscapes.
The resulting music is richly detailed and sonically varied, yet its emotions feel strangely stagnant, with Lott’s eclectic arrangements offering only various shades of sorrow. That’s true even when the songs sound, on paper, like they should offer joyful release: “The Fool You Need” features slurred, twitchy beats and staccato stabs of trumpet, but the mood remains downcast; it’s a song far too glum to dance to, let alone play at a party. “I had wanted another world for you,” Lott sings on opening track “Forty Screams,” grappling with the anxiety of bringing a new life into a confusing and dangerous world.
Were it not for the imaginative arrangements on display throughout Brighter Wounds, this pervading sense of melancholy might have made the album feel monotonous. Lott and his collaborators sneak a lot of seemingly disparate sounds and ideas into the album’s songs without anything ever feeling tacked on or out of place. “Dream State” is the best example of the group’s seamless, integrative approach: The track opens with mood-setting ambiance courtesy of brass and woodwinds before erupting into a big, arena-scaling rock chorus—and then, over the course of five minutes, undergoes several more transformations from sleek electronica to savage rock and back again.
Lott excels at creating tension from the contrast between loud and quiet, making smart use of silence throughout Brighter Wounds. “Slowly” has a beguiling start-stop structure, frequently grinding to a halt only to start back up again. And on the subsequent “All Directions,” long stretches of quiet are interrupted by volcanic eruptions of jittery programmed beats and live percussion, offering welcome moments of catharsis.
For all the musical sophistication on display here, Lott’s cracked warble and heart-on-sleeve lyrics contrast with the steely precision of the arrangements in ways that are surprisingly emo, humanizing the robotic soundscapes even when it leans too far into angst. Though his words aren’t directly political, they’re full of lamentations on the state of the world—and also a longing for transformation. “I’m a believer, but I’m not a fool,” Lott sings on Brighter Wounds’s closing track, “Resurrection.” The line encapsulates both hopefulness and realism—faith in a better world but also stark acknowledgment of the current one—and provides one of the closest things to release on an album that’s grimly effective at conjuring unease.