Review: Son Lux – Alternate Forms

Artwork for Son Lux's 2023 album Alternate Forms

Vivid reimagination from Son Lux.

New York, New York. So good they named it twice.

And also the sort of place you might expect to find an outfit like Son Lux, who are made up of songwriters Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang and who, over the course of the last fifteen years or so, have released eight studio albums along with numerous singles and EPs of what could be described as experimental pop.

During this time you could argue that this is a milieu in which the unconventional became the reverse whilst plain, boring old rock n’ roll struggled to change its decades-old construct, but that’s an argument for another day.

With Lott having already scored The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby in 2014, the real game-changer for the trio came when they were approached by a production team known as The Daniels, or Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. They needed creative people to work on their concept for an eye-popping, incredebilist movie which would become Everything Everywhere All At Once, and for Lott and co. it sounded like an offer they couldn’t refuse.

With their ability to believe on hold, the brief entailed working with songwriters of the calibre of Mitski, David Byrne and Randy Newman. Post the film’s release and widespread critical acclaim, Oscar nominations for the Best Original Score followed (they were the first group to be put forward since The Beatles) along with another one for Lott himself, in this case Best Song for This is A Life.
In the city that never sleeps, they were dreaming.

To an extent, anything following on from that experience would be a comedown, but wisely the trio have avoided any pretensions to emulate the sprawl of Everything’s… two-hour score. Instead, Alternate Forms is a project that looks further back, in form a track-by-track reworking of the trio’s breakthrough 2013 album Lanterns.

There was also only one way to approach the project: as the original featured a host of contributing musicians such as The Antlers’ Peter Silberman and Shara Nova, AKA My Brightest Diamond, the premise had by definition to be same this time round. With a different collaborator on every track and where each brings something tangible to shape the redefinition process, this new cast is sadly too extensive to fully recognise here.

In amongst all the chop and change there was always a possibility that the results would end up weighed down by their own ambition, but Alternate Forms emerges as an exercise full of diversity and worth.

Here opener Alternate World froths with Teleman-esque brainiac alt-pop touches courtesy of Kishi Bashi, whilst Ransom (All Innocence) is filled with a spectral, glitchy magic and sprite-like touches from Sedcairn and Sound Of Ceres.

In a sense, this desire for an experience and being so heavily reliant on atmospherics makes for a soundtrack environment. The gorgeously delicate wisps and operatic rake of No Crimes (New History) are reminiscent of Japanese composer Susuma Yokota, closer Lanterns Lit (Singing Light) is a torch song reflected in a broken mirror, whilst Plan The Escape (Sirens And Tremors) is an extraordinary, twisted piece of R&B.

The final word though has to go to the never-not-wonderful Anna B Savage, who in typically divine mode turns Pyre (Alarm Bells) into yet another brooding, hazed out classic.

Meanwhile, back in New York, with Alternate Forms, Son Lux have taken an old script and turned it into the sequel we never knew we wanted, but now realise we needed all the same.

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