About a year ago, Michael Kauffman (head of Asthmatic Kitty Records, home to Sufjan Stevens, Castanets, Half-handed Cloud, etc.) and I were asked to officiate in a contest called “Bandspotting” that was part of Calvin College’s 2007 Festival of Faith and Music. It was like American Idol in that we got to judge a lot of musical unknowns and wield extraordinary power over the lives of musicians looking for their big break (okay, at least some kind of break). It was unlike American Idol in that we didn’t get to make any snarky comments from the peanut gallery.
The winner of the contest was a kid named Ryan Lott, who goes by the nom de mope of Son Lux. Ryan is a classically-trained pianist who is enamored with Kid A-era Radiohead. He sings in a sort of hushed rasp, throws in some Rachmaninoff sturm and drang, and then slices and dices everything via tape loops, lots of sampling (everything from fairly standard hip-hop beats to operatic divas) and electronic blips and beeps. I got to know Ryan a litle bit, and over the course of 2007 he passed along new music to me and kept me apprised of his move to New York, search for the right label, etc.
So now the cat, or perhaps asthmatic kitty, is out of the bag, and I can share a little more. Pitchfork is all over his debut album, called At War With Walls and Mazes, and which will be released on Anticon Records on February 26th. Anticon is known primarily as a wildly eclectic and erratic hip-hop label. This is not that, although it is wildly eclectic. The Pitchfork article (and accompanying MP3 download) does a nice job of conveying Ryan’s sound. What it doesn’t tell you is anything at all about what’s going on with the songs themselves. I was immediately struck by Ryan’s use of Scripture (and lines clearly derived from Scripture) throughout these songs. Ryan starts with a biblical verse, a fragment of a verse, a spiritually-charged word – and repeats it over and over again, like Rosary beads. And listening to the same scrap of truth repeated, sliced and diced, taken out and examined from all sorts of musical angles, I finally got it. This is the musical equivalent of Lectio Divina, the spiritual discipline of meditating on a small segment of Scripture and soaking in that truth in all of its ramifcations. And here this classically-trained indie kid had found a way to do it via Radiohead and Rachmaninoff.
The music is quiet, and it’s thunderously beautiful. I think it’s a fabulous album, and I encourage you all to pick it up when it’s released in a few weeks.