Weapons EP

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by Son Lux

In 2008, New York’s Son Lux (a.k.a. Ryan Lott) released his debut LP to a chorus of praise, capturing the attentions of tastemakers as diverse as NPR, Okayplayer.com, Pitchfork and composer Nico Muhly. Much of what gave At War With Walls & Mazes its unique appeal was Lott’s central objective: to create a body of songs that inhabited the pop spectrum whilst ditching binary form (verse-chorus) for something more akin to chant. On record, rhythms and words moved uninhibited around anchoring melodies; live, this freed Lott to reinvent each track during performances, either reorganizing bits solo via piano or arranging the parts for new ensembles and instruments.

In the time since Mazes, Lott has stayed busy composing – among other things – hours of music for dance companies from New York to Paris. But for him, the chant-based concept of the Son Lux debut required further investigation. The Weapons EP is Lott’s self-issued challenge to do just that – to use Mazes standout “Weapons,” whose primary melody haunts various points of that record, as a launch pad for a complete EP of material derived from a single source.

To this end, Lott built three new compositions around the original’s essential kernel and enlisted three trusted collaborators – Anticon artists Alias and Polyphonic, plus Muhly himself – to do the rest. The result is not only six unique reincarnations of “Weapons,” but a fractal work where melody becomes song becomes cycle, with one essence woven throughout.

Opener “Weapons II” is a drumless specter of the original – a slowly cresting swell of strings that collapses in squelch just as familiarity sets in. For “Weapons III,” Polyphonic leaves an indelible stamp, eroding the original’s billowing percussion into a ricocheting set of Matmos-like bloops before dissolving the whole thing in a wash of warm ambience. Muhly is responsible for “Weapons IV,” replacing Lott’s rich sequencer melody with raw viola, isolating ominous organ tones, and weaving instrumentation through the huge, panning drums. It’s a surprisingly beat- based contribution from classical’s rising star.

Then, on “Weapons V,” Lott steps back in. An orchestral gallop explodes into a completely reworked rhythm that pits its punk rock thrust against sweeping strings. Alias counters with “Weapons VI,” where a boom-bap kit (including handclaps and cowbell) is chopped into glitchy bits that flow beneath the glacial keyboards and frenetic rap. Last and perhaps most impressive, Lott’s “Weapons VII” wrangles horns, woodwinds and live drums for a six-and-a-half-minute take whose cacophony ultimately slows to an intimate, jazz-inflected crawl beguiling enough to make one forget these songs’ common source.