Lawrence English - Cruel Optimism - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Lawrence English - Cruel Optimism

by Sean Hewson Rating:8 Release Date:2017-02-17

Cruel Optimism (the title is taken from American theorist Lauren Berlant) is Lawrence English’s meditation on power, mainly in relation to obsession and fragility. When making this album, English was particularly thinking of Brexit, the US election, across the board intolerance, the refugee crises and war. Amongst the many contributors are Mats Gustafsson; Tony Buck, and Chris Abrahams from The Necks; and Norman Westberg and Thor Harris from Swans.

This album simultaneously covers a great deal of territory and has a very set sound. Songs can be reminiscent of William Basinski (Hard Rain), Swans (Hammering A Screw) or Gavin Bryars (Moribund Territories). English and his collaborators can create sounds like little explosions and their aftermaths, great creatures moving slowly, deep in the sea or weather fronts passing over. He can also, as on Requiem For A Reaper Pillar Of Cloud, create a great feeling of serenity. His basic sound is a combination of drones with the feel of a slightly detuned radio. To this are added percussive impacts and fluttering/creaking sounds. The whole thing can engulf you or feel like it’s not quite there.

Cruel Optimism is an exceptional record that combines both violent and ambient sounds. At its most violent it can sound like Swans, at its most layered it is like Loveless and at its most serene it is like William Basinski. And, as with the recent Basinski album, it takes a skilled craftsman to get so much out of apparently so little and also to have so many outside contributions without letting it dilute the power and meaning of the work.

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