Brighter Wounds finds Son Lux transformed all over again. Last time around, on 2015's exultant and explosive Bones, Ryan Lott's genre-defying solo project became a bonafide band, igniting his volatile mix of electronic pop, unusual soul and outright experimentalism. This fifth album marks another fundamental shift as Lott leaves universal themes behind to write from a personal perspective. While making these songs, he became a father to a baby boy and lost a best friend to cancer. Days of "firsts" were also days of "lasts," and the normal fears of first time parenthood were compounded by a frightening new reality -- Lott's son arrived shortly after Election Day. These songs draw on all of that: warm reflections of a fading past, the pain of still-present loss, and a mix of anxiety and hope for a future promised to none. Fittingly, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang help deliver Son Lux's most dynamic, inviting album yet.
It begins with an overture: "Forty Screams," an uneasy letter from Lott to his unborn child with a score as theatrical as it is dooming. Lott's ghostly whisper conveys regret -- "I had wanted a better world for you" -- while also begging this innocent soul to "scream love" in face of chaos. But the anthemic roar of "Dream State" follows, providing instant uplift as a triumphant shout blasts through a cloud of synths, plus woodwinds and brass from the yMusic crew, who appear throughout Brighter Wounds. The song's ideal vision of youth -- "Invincible skin, it's how we all begin" -- contrasts poignantly against the weathered R&B of-the minimal "Labor." Chang's crisp pacing and Bhatia's melismatic fluidity push and pull at Lott as he begs, "Come to life," to his newborn, who required CPR upon his arrival into this world. This sort of firsthand vulnerability is new to Son Lux, and it makes it impossible to not feel what Lott is feeling. If Bones provided a skeleton, then Brighter Wounds has imbued it with blood and breath. The raw material took shape remotely at first -- Lott now lives in Los Angeles, the others in New York -- but came together as an album when the band did, in an intensive, 11-day studio residency in Manhattan. The distance allowed each member to make himself heard in the mix, and for space to emerge within these songs. Take "The Fool You Need," where Chang's rhythm is both elastic and mechanistic, Lott's voice flickers as he pledges unconditional love no matter the cost, and Bhatia closes with a lurching, circuitous flurry, the album's only moment of acoustic guitar. And there's "Slowly" with its wide, stuttering gait, lyrically taking solace in the untruths we tell each other to insulate our loved ones from the universe's brutal indifference.