Ryan Lott is a musician readymade for and by the 21st Century: As Son Lux, he works as a songwriter, singer, arranger and producer, restlessly collaborating with musicians who, like himself, seem to be readymade polyglots. He matches those manifold roles with an equally dizzying assortment of musical references — hip-hop foundations brush against classical grace, and post-rock climaxes punctuate art-rock intervals. He tastefully links the electric, the electronic, and the acoustic, turning his songs into a referendum on how the past can live with the future, at least while in his presence.
Lanterns is Son Lux’s first album for Joyful Noise Recordings after two full-length releases with the oddball eclectics at Anticon. It is a work of compelling synthesis, where the seemingly disparate elements of Lott’s toolkit build into settled and confident cascades of hyperactivity. On “Easy,” a beat that conjures Dr. Dre undergirds Lott’s voice, stretched and swollen like the coo of James Blake; the action dissolves into a psychedelic smear, with baritone saxophone caught in a coughing fit over electric piano and Rafiq Bhatia’s neon-sky guitar. “Pyre” casts a ghoulish choir and garish cacophony against Lott’s delicate singing and a pensive piano. His pool of collaborators is deep, from mandolin boundary-breaker Chris Thile to manic MuteMath drummer Darren King, but Lott trades the album’s panoply of human collaborators for a digitized burst of vocals on entrancing closer “Lanterns Lit,” where he samples the BBC Radio Choir.
That finale does suggest one consistent hiccup for Lanterns: It’s a record better served by its wondrous moments than its actual songs, with truly ebullient or mesmerizing pieces of music sometimes lost in tunes either too slight or byzantine to bear them. Lott is at his best when he can sustain those flashes of splendor across the course of a tune, as he does on “Lost It to Trying.” An ecstatic swirl of horns, winds, drums, vocals and effects, the best song here suggests the score to a reel of seemingly impossible athletic feats. It’s where Lanterns burns brightest, but it’s certainly not where it burns out.