Album Review: Son Lux – Tomorrows III

[City Slang; 2021]

It’s bittersweet reaching the denouement of a series – especially one that has proven as rewarding and emotional as Son Lux’s Tomorrows trilogy. Finales are frequently anticipated and built upon inherent expectations that don’t necessarily plague previous instalments – for, despite proverbs such as ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination’, endings are important. However, as regards the band’s new album, Tomorrows III, this is a trilogy that began at the zenith and refused to descend even a millimetre in quality. The consistency of these grim sonic landscapes occasionally, and mercifully, emblazoned by a flickering light are experimental, saddening and yes, inspiring too. With more collaboration and outright vulnerability than we are perhaps used to from Son Lux, Tomorrows III is the glimmering onyx capstone upon a pyramid of anguish and liberation.

If “anguish and liberation” sounds too paradoxical then that’s definitely the point. Son Lux naturally accomplish such contrasts in their opposing sonic textures, which are intensely emotional as much as intriguing. Opening track “Unbind” embodies this perfectly with its initial beginning of sweeping cinematic strings, an orchestral smoothness that eventually collides with violent electric guitar riffing and cacophonous drums to create a suddenly dangerous and fraught piece that is as much transfixing as it is alarming. This also showcases the absolute symbiosis that the band have in their respective fields – particularly Ian Chang’s drumming and Rafiq Bhatia’s guitar work, which give this instrumental track a sudden and satisfying left-turn.

Segueing into the achingly pleading and uneasy “A Different Kind of Love”, Son Lux implement percussion, strings and a lurking beat beneath the song’s withered heart. “And it won’t be earned / If solace finds me here / As I’m bruising my knees / Whispering please,” Ryan Lott sings, before his voice is altered to an ultimate despairing rasp repeats “Please,” as if yearning for water in the deepest circle of hell. This isn’t a biblical hell but the hell of being suspended under the power of someone or something that refuses to let you go, slowly draining you of your vivacity. There is definitely a demonic edge to “Different Kind of Love”, especially heard in the woeful choir that joins the chorus – Son Lux thrive in this pitch darkness.

“Plans We Make” is a revisit into the first instalment’s “Plans We Made”, this time featuring the excellent Kadhja Bonet. While its predecessor seemed more universal, this one feels more internal exploring the disparity between emotional desire and emotional action; “Do I detect the changes I create? / Or create the distance I detect?,” Bonet sings, taking a prominent vocal role over sparser instrumentation that really emphasises the song’s minimalist R&B edge. When “Plans We Make” eventually explodes into a combination of strings, drums and prominent bass, it creates a sudden shocking impact as if you have jumped off a ledge and landed in icy water. Ending on the repeated refrain of “I’ve been afraid to let you go,” we are yet again left contemplating whether sacrificing our connection to something unhealthy is worth the potential loneliness ahead.

Things become somewhat more uplifting on the incandescent album highlight “Come Recover”, where Ryan’s vocals are modulated into a robotic siren who is programmed to encourage someone to show their vulnerability; “It’s a foolish disguise / You’re hiding inside but / There’s no shelter / Underneath your skin,” he reminds us over euphoric strings. There’s something wonderfully victorious about this track, especially when the almost tribal drum patterns arrive halfway through the song, creating greater urgency. This is the album’s singular light spot, a dazzling oasis from the shadowy claws of fear and destruction that underline this project. Following track “Sever” is a melting pot of jaggedly propulsive synths that are an urgent and dramatic track where guest vocalist Holland Andrews’ incredibly powerful vocals are the star. Lyrically, “Sever” explores this drastic notion that disconnecting from something can be an inherently painful process, with Andrews proclaiming with every ounce of emotional being: “How do I keep what is mine? / I can sever / I can sever / I need to sever.” It relates back to the themes of “Come Recover”, albeit in a macabre sort of way, suggesting healing is possible with sacrifice.

“The Hour” is a beautiful track combining synths, vaguely insidious strings and spidery drumming – and feels like the Son Lux version of a lullaby – you won’t be sleeping, but there is a sense of being cradled in some kind of otherworldly dimension where things are too alien to be completely comforting. “Will we break before we bend / Tangled in each other’s limbs / We rise, we fight / We lean, we lean / Into the light,” Ryan sings gently, comparing humanity to trees; it seems a cautionary tale about how, despite humanity’s inherent connection to each other, we are bound to disconnect or break apart in some form.

The album concludes with “Vacancy”, which features Kiah Victoria and proves that – even with the grandiose apocalyptic vibe of their music – the individual struggle is the one that takes precedent for Son Lux. Over guitar, bass, electronic flourishes and smooth drumming, this is a moody track about being willing to leave someone if it will bring them peace; “If what you need is nothing / If what you need is no one near / If I can’t give you what you want / What you need / I’ll make the vacancy.” Ryan’s defeated vocals against Kiah’s emphatic tone create a glorious sad chemistry that encompasses this break-up duet. To end the trilogy on this note is definitely surprising because it reminds us that even as we can see the world dying around us, we can’t help but think of the regrets and losses that we have suffered. It’s a stunning and melancholic reminder that our personal energies affect our surroundings.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson to take away from the Tomorrows trilogy is that our individual pain and the world’s pain can feed into each other in this poisonous cycle. That we, as humans, can’t help but project our internal struggles as a reflection upon the earth itself because when we experience failure, heartbreak, loss and disruption – isn’t in our nature to feel like the world is ending? Maybe this is just too much amateur philosophising for an album review, but such is the wonder of attempting to deconstruct the world Son Lux have painted.

Tomorrows III is a sometimes truly unsettling but frequently beautiful listening experience that demonstrates risk and a commitment to concept that is rare. It is well worth your time to invest not just in this instalment but the whole trilogy and find comfort in the abrasive, juxtaposing nature of Son Lux’s music. They are all too aware that the apocalypse can be just as much inside as it is outside – but that we must always keep our eyes on the silver linings even if they only emit a feeble light.