Album Review: Son Lux – Tomorrows II

[City Slang; 2020]

There has always been something of the apocalyptic within Son Lux’s music. The trio – consisting of Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang – frequently deal with urgency, despair and grief over the state of the world. Songs like “Dream State” for example (from their fantastic album Brighter Wounds) lament how quickly the individual’s life can be upended. Yet, although their songs can often be harbingers of doom, they also possess an ascendant beauty. Nothing has ever been completely black nor completely white in their music, but an incorporation of both. Shadows always flit around their brighter songs while beams of light flicker in and out their darker songs. Now at the end of a universally bad year, the band have released their brand new album Tomorrows II, which effectively veers between defeat and victory.

The second instalment in their Tomorrows trilogy, Tomorrows II delivers what the band produce incredibly well: shifting, multi-layered soundscapes that can encourage listeners to rise above their internal conflicts or pull them into a despondent chasm. As the songs bend and twist into unpredictable shapes, so does the emotional direction and the listening experience. With the combination of their idiosyncratic production and Lott’s emotive, vibrato-rich voice, the audience is taken through scenes of pathos, liberation and death – a combination which all too well represents life itself.

Album opener “Warning” is a sparse song with mournful piano and Lott’s vocals at the forefront. The lyrics start: “Can’t promise I’ll be near you / All the way up through the end,” which invokes the imagery of a person, bedridden and dying, understanding that it’s their time. As Lott repeats: “Am I leaving you in the morning my dear?” with his powerful falsetto, death itself doesn’t seem as painful as knowing who you leave behind. Although this song is not necessarily indicative of the entire album’s mood, it is a powerful and striking beginning.

The following track “Molecules” starts with the sound of clacking wooden wind chimes which linger behind prominent piano. It is the contrasting tempos of these two instruments allow these tracks with their soft and hard textures coexist. Through a coldly distorted filter, Lott recalls how “We danced until the bullets flew / Oh how they made their way through you.” As the song progresses, more lush elements are added such as strings and synths that elevate it while still keeping its tragic backbone. The connections to “Warning” are apparent as “How many tomorrows gone?” is asked. Both songs are preoccupied with death although in this case, death is sudden and with no time for contemplation.

In a complete 180, “Prophecy” is a more straightforward track by Son Lux standards, with its groovy bass guitar and jazzy sensibilities. The song contains more uplifting sentiments against self-sabotage such as “It’s time to raise the dead / It’s time to lift your head and begin.” With its poppier feel and great choir backing vocals helping to emphasise the message of moving forward, this is one of their more accessible tracks which may cause a casual listener to deep dive into their whole discography. Elsewhere, album highlight “Apart” is a song about transformation after trauma and is heavily influenced by world music. Ryan sings: “I’ve broken so much that I can’t heal / Maybe I need to become somebody else,” which feels like the darker side about leaving demons behind. The production becomes more dynamic in the last minute of the song as every element comes together for a beautiful finale.

A significant portion of the tracklist – four songs out of 10 – is taken up by instrumentals, which often act as conduits to the next explosive song. “Out of Wind” and “Weight of Your Air” appropriately feel connected as atmospheric interludes, while “Bodies” is a quirky and ominously mysterious track consisting of bass guitar, prominent “oohs”, hand claps and a beat that marches closer and closer as the track progresses. Album closer “Borrowed Eyes” is a brief track containing sharp strings and piano which may be a bridge to Tomorrows III, which is due for release in April. While it is nice to have some calmer spots on an often intense album, Son Lux really make their listeners behold the beauty in this well-structured chaos that this can sometimes jarringly disrupt the flow. However, these instrumentals still help in fleshing out this world of despondence.

Where the album truly amazes is on its two lengthier tracks “Leaves” and “Live Another Life”. The former combines quickly-strummed guitar, tambourine, hand-claps and what sounds like a finger piano to create an overall grittier sounding track. This epic centrepiece also contains beautiful sparse sections broken by glitches of dynamic production, as Ryan sings “I am already gone / Not trying to escape anymore.” It is a complex listen that warrants multiple listens to fully appreciate. Meanwhile, “Live Another Life” – the last song on the album that isn’t an instrumental – is a victorious ode to breaking free from what is holding you back. There are still demons circling around the arena of the song as Ryan warns “Oh, I could bleed right here / And leave a crimson smear on you / Won’t live another’s life,” showing a fundamental desperation to be released. However, this makes the song’s message stronger in its ability to directly face the darkness and win the fight against it.

Tomorrows II is an emotional cataclysm from start to finish from a band who continually thwart the ambivalence people have towards their own – and the world’s – failures. It possesses an innate ability to provide complex tapestries of sound and universal narratives of despair and triumph – though it is possible for audiences to get lost in the world they’ve captured without paying attention to the lyrics and still feel something ache within their chest. With their startling empathy and experimental production, Son Lux have captured this harrowing year with heart-striking accuracy.