Fascinating music

Son Lux brings sweet synthesizer sounds to the Felton Music Hall

During experimental indie band Son Lux’s intimate and soaring performance at Felton Music Hall on May 14, lead singer and synth maestro Ryan Lott stopped by to give the few dozen attentive attendees a taste of the modern Hollywood machine.

Everything everywhere all at oncea film contemplating the multiverse from directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, screened at CineLux, just across from the Scotts Valley Dunes, and Lott shared his own impressive experience creating its soundtrack.

“It’s a very crazy and beautiful film and just an incredibly rewarding project for us,” he said, explaining the material, as it had been germinating for years. “For our last song, we’re going to play the first piece of music we sent to the directors.”

They started by sending snippets of messages – raw bits and improvisations – trying to find the right tone.

The piece – which would become the endlessly complex and triumphant “Unbind” on their 2021 album Tomorrows was the perfect way to kick off their artistic back-and-forth with “the Daniels,” Lott recalls.

“We just felt like there was something that resonated with the movie, full of beauty and chaos,” he said, adding that they liked what they heard. “It was a harbinger for us of the kind of synchronicity we were going to have as a creative team.”

And while the specific song didn’t make the final cut, its bones did.

“That became the basis of one of the main themes of the film,” he said, as they knocked the house down with this one-track alternate reality. “Thank you again so much for being here.”

I have vague memories of anxiously awaiting a radio presenter’s announcement, following a mind-blowing live number, on a long, rambling road trip years ago. That’s how I started looking for Son Lux. The group consists of Lott, Rafiq Bhatia (guitar) and Ian Chang (drums).

And when it happened again, with an equally brilliant but understated track, I tucked the band away in the “quality” section of my musical brain for safekeeping. When you find a wine no one else seems to know that it always goes down smooth with a complex finish or a surfboard from a local shaper that works well in the range of waves that tend to hit the shores of your stay at home.

Every time I try to search for them online I start by mistakenly typing in “Sun Lox” as if I was looking for a tasty bagel recipe.

Over the past few months, when I’ve considered potential shows throughout the Greater Bay Area, this one has always stuck with me.

So after pumping up my bike tire, cycling up the San Lorenzo River, and watching the rise and fall of bird sounds at dusk, I headed to the Felton Music Hall.

As soon as the sounds of Son Lux hit my eardrums, I immediately remembered why the band first impressed me.

Because what I heard from the scene might as well have been the backing track to the happy chorus I had just witnessed outside.

During a break between songs, Lott said they were lucky enough to enjoy nature’s bounty here too.

The leader pointed out that he likes this size of show as much as their larger concerts. And lest one of the hipster hipster attendees wonder if the group was bothered that the room wasn’t packed, he called it quits. He said… maybe more.

“We feel good – it’s an amazing place,” he said to a crescendo of applause and cheers as the band moved on to their next track. “This song is like an old friend. It’s the only old song we play in this set.

They were set to treat Felton to “Easy,” featuring staccato drums and a mysterious guitar line.

On the YouTube version of the track, their record label explained how the song’s elements meshed into the larger popular music landscape.

“Halsey sampled Son Lux for her song. And Fall Out Boy also sampled Son Lux for one of their songs,” the pinned comment read. “No matter how shitty or amazing you think their songs are, both were licensed samples. This means that no one “stole” anything from anyone. But Son Lux did indeed write that shit, and the people at Halsey certainly paid us for the privilege of using that audio. In turn, we use the money to keep producing amazing music, which will no doubt continue to be sampled in the future by less talented people.

And here, Son Lux was reinventing it, once again.

“We couldn’t help but rethink a bit,” Lott said. “It’s an old song in a new way.”

Lott’s voice sounds like Caribou’s emotional whispers. The instrumentation is orchestral but electronic, à la Max Cooper.

I imagine you could end up with something similar to Son Lux if you mix Grateful Dead with Refused and add floating dots as icing on the cake.

Comparisons to Jamie XX, Joy Orbison and Four Tet are not unwarranted. Chang’s crisp drumming added a rolling – almost breakbeat – aspect. Bhatia provided the sound textures to wallpaper the room and filled in the cracks in the floor.

The way Lott keyed the glissando violin sample on the downward-slanted synthesizer during “Plans We Made” demonstrated precision musicality.

He kept pushing his glasses over the bridge of his nose to keep them in place, as part of the rhythm of the performance.

At times the space felt like a chapel, thanks to the vaulted ceiling above. To others, like a cozy nightclub with underground DJs.

And when, during one of the songs, Oakland opener Nappy Nina came to play with them onstage, it was like we were transported to a hip-hop or spoken word competition in the East Bay.

Overall, the show was a sweet reminder to trust your instincts in music and life.

Remember that everything everywhere is not necessarily as grim and tedious as you first think.