+ Ryan Lott (of Son Lux) teaches how to build custom virtual instruments for sound design and scoring in Soundfly’s new course, Designing Sample-Based Instruments.
No one could claim that the band Son Lux isn’t inventive and unique.
From wildly cinematic, epic live performances to lush, ethereal soundscapes, their sound is other worldly, dark, and timely, especially for a bonafide “pop” band. But most of all, Son Lux has a sound you have not heard elsewhere (headphones are highly recommended when listening due to Son Lux’s mastery of timbre and aurality).
No song is more emblematic of this extreme kind of sonic artistry than “Plans We Made” off their 2020 three volume mega-album, Tomorrows. Let’s listen!
Much of what makes Son Lux so unique is how they use the studio like an instrument itself. Here we’ll break down some of the most daring production choices on this one choice Son Lux jam.
But first, if that excites you, Soundfly just launched our newest online course with Ryan Lott himself, exploring his singular approach to building new hybrid electronic instruments and synths out of raw, sampled source audio, and so much more about his unique, creative composition and production process. Check out Ryan Lott: Designing Virtual Instruments here and preview a full lesson for free.
1. Whispery Vocals That Never Go “Nuts”
Soft, ethereal vocal tracks aren’t rare, but there’s something bold and strange about the “Plans We Made” lead. First of all, hyper-spiritual softness is usually reserved for female vocals. The vocal is reminiscent of Radiohead, The Eels, or some other indie rock group with male vocals, but often in those cases, there’s an expectation of eventual screaming freak out. Ryan Lott never does that. Instead, the track builds interest and energy with less obvious tactics, and holds forth in a restrained confident sense of its own identity.
2. Abrupt Reverb Changes
Lott’s vocal is appropriately dripping in reverb — at first. Then, mid-sentence, he’s dry as a bone. This seems perfectly sensical in the context of electronic interest built into the track, but seconds later, you realize that’s just not often done.
Sure, you might see a subtle boost in reverb in a chorus, but to drop it out mid-sentence? Good stuff.
3. Are Those Backing Vocals or Synth Thingies?
Certain lyrics are punctuated the same way a four-voice backing group might punctuate words in a Motown hit, but it’s impossible to tell if they’re super-processed acoustically recorded backing vocals, or synthy audio nom noms that somehow remind us of lyrics. This robot backing group is a weird but unique touch, and it sounds contemporary while still serving exactly the same purpose as a more traditional backing vocal group.
4. Minimal Drums
Tracks are often ambient without drums. And other tracks are chock full of big rhythm. “Plans We Made” is neither. The choice made in “Plans We Made” is common enough, but it’s still bold enough to notice. Drums here consist of an electronic kick and a snap.
That’s it. No snare, no hats, no tom fills.
The odd thing is, this rhythm track feels like it needs to be there and needs to be exactly what it is, whereas many similar tracks seem randomly placed. This drum track sounds like it was birthed directly from the ambient electronica around it.
5. There Isn’t a Lot of Lyrics
If you read along to the lyrics to “Plans We Made,” they’re remarkably short, yet the track itself is nearly four minutes long. There are plenty of long, ambient, musical spaces between lyrics.
Additionally, although the song is built on a solid Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus structure, the transitions between the sections are not typical. It’s almost as if everything is gooey and flexible, and the band can decide last minute whether they want to follow the song’s own trajectory or put roadblocks down to break up the fluidity of the road.
6. The Reworks
Son Lux is known for reworking songs (theirs and others). They leaned into this with the Tomorrows release, which includes three main volumes and an extra reworks volume. Not only does that volume have a reworked version of “Plans We Made” by Jon Bap, there’s also “Plans We Make,” another rework featuring Kadhja Bonet on vocals.
The thing about these “reworks” is they’re not simple remixes. They’re completely different productions, using some of the same lyrical and melodic thematic material. The Jon Bap rework is rhythmic, squirrely, and out of tune (on purpose), with a vastly different arrangement, and the Kadhja Bonet track features new lyrics, different arrangement, a vastly different vibe, and a different title.
7. You Know What, Just Listen to It a Bunch
On first blush, “Plans We Made” is somewhat easy to describe — until the words actually start coming out of your mouth. Then they all seem like weak, simple lies. Everything you can say about “Plans We Made” is the wrong language in the wrong era of music, spoken by the wrong tongue. This track is unique and yet mesmerizing, avant-garde, yet veritably catchy. It’s a crazy accomplishment of pop music.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with in-depth artist-led courses by Kimbra, Com Truise, Jlin, Kiefer, and the newly released Ryan Lott: Designing Sample-Based Instruments.