Room40 bossman Lawrence English shows us why he is where he is with an excellent record of dense electronics. Cruel Optimism has the elemental drones that English is so good at, but also contributions from amazing guest musicians like Mats Gustafsson, Werner Dafeldecker and Tony Buck of The Necks. Quite a set of sounds.
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- Cruel Optimism by Lawrence English
8/10 Robin Staff review, 16 February 2017
Can I use the term power ambient without getting fired? If I could I’d certainly be attaching it to this record by fogmeister Lawrence English. This week he unleashes his new one on his Room40 imprint, focusing his drones on the complex abstracts of trauma and suffering -- and how they’re dealt, forever and always, downwards. The pyramid on the front of this record, rising up from a puff of grey cloud, feels like a simple metaphor for hierarchy, an image standing for the juxtaposition of dominant and vulnerable sounds being pushed through ‘Cruel Optimism’.
Alright: seminar bullshit over. I was ever one to ramble. This record, though, sees English invoke a constant struggle in his drones -- it has the same textural mistiness as much of his previous output, relating strongly to ‘Wilderness of Mirrors’, but with a different temperment. It acts out with thrashing volume swells and huge percussive barks, quiet tones constantly being erupted by transgressive noise. It would be a disservice to call a track like “Exquisite Human Microphone” moody -- its almost incidental layers of hushed drone are swollen gracelessly, pushed beyond their means in a way so occasional, and so unthinking, that you can’t help but feel those themes of giving and receiving punishment that English is talking about.
It is not a pretty record: it suggests prettiness but trashes it with purpose, taking the trembling strums of “Negative Drone” into a hissing, dissonant hellscape. The record speaks to Englsh’s recent fear that music can and will be taken into the wrong hands, used for acts of violence -- he recently outlined the history of music as a mechanism of torture for FACT, and I think this record stands in protest. By placing ominous and terrifying drones amidst softer, more emotive shards of sound (the glorious backdrop of “Moribund Territories”), it sounds like English is writing not just about intolerance, but reacting to it in real time.
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