I prefer even numbers over odd, finding satisfaction in simple math like rounding to numbers ending in 0 and dividing numbers without the messiness of halves or other remainders. It’s in this spirit that I find everything about Tomorrows III, the latest release from New York experimental electronic outfit Son Lux, not just odd but prime—unique in a calculated way that will mesmerize some as it merely gives me agita.
When Son Lux was just Ryan Lott’s solo project a lot of its music felt like trip-hop pushed through the sieve of post-rock, textured and fractured more than most but still comprising enough supple leftfield grooves to earn zoomer street cred. The second half of Son Lux’s existence has been as a trio, with Lott joined by touring bandmates Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang. After two LPs spent brashly increasing both the volume and the BPMs, Tomorrows III closes a subsequent triad of releases (which they claim make up one long Tomorrows album, to be released in box-set form in July) purposefully meant to question everything we ever might have loved about the band.
Lott hints at the formula late in Tomorrows III, during “The Hour”: “Will we break before we bend/Tangled in each other’s limbs/We rise, we fight, we lean/We lean into the light.” Inspired by difficult social and political times to make difficult music, Son Lux here were ready to accept stretches of fascinating beauty subverted instead of supplemented. There’s intentional fucking-with of the band’s brand on the level of Jonny Greenwood’s angry dead chords in Radiohead’s “Creep.” Over far more running time, though, the results feel far less successful.
Fluttering guitars and synths in “Unbind” shatter like Humpty Dumpty, while “Come Recover” has vocodered vocals that could scream disco jubilation but instead suggest the breakdown of dancing machines from Kraftwerk to Daft Punk. There seem to be too many minute-plus interludes for a 10-song album, with too much competition between whispers and heavy breathing and digital reconstructions of the same. And the brightest highlights on here are all languid torch songs that need rescuing by guest vocalists, chief among them Kiah Victoria on “Vacancy.”
Full of techno chamber-pop, Tomorrows II from December 2020 is clearly the most consistent entry in this trilogy. Even Tomorrows I from August had its moments in a curious Miley Cyrus-vs.-Flaming Lips manner. Too often, Tomorrows III sounds like the devil in mid-1990s Tom Waits run through Ableton. It’s Son Lux as abstract and high-concept as they’ve ever been, making music that’s oddly deliberate, serious, and dark.
Label: City Slang
Adam Blyweiss is associate editor of Treble. A graphic designer and design teacher by trade, Adam has written about music since his 1990s college days and been published at MXDWN and e|i magazine. Based in Philadelphia, Adam has also DJ’d for terrestrial and streaming radio from WXPN and WKDU.