Brisbane-based Lawrence English is a staggeringly prolific artist. His work as musician, curator and artist is often cerebral and conceptual and his latest release, Cruel Optimism, is an obliquely political album, based upon the presence or absence of power as evoked in the work of theorist Lauren Berlant.
This transposition results in an album of staggering sonic heft and a listening experience akin to being drenched in dolorous fog with only temporary moments of visibility. But it’s invigorating and profound, mapping a sonic current which traverses moments of gently unfolding beauty (The Quietest Shore) and even brassy grandiosity (particularly on the widescreen projections of Exquisite Human Microphone).
Coming across like a traumatised Stars of the Lid, the album excels in transmitting the human condition through impressionist saturations of tone and texture, turning minimalism into maxamilism, cruelty into optimism. Crucially, English’s collaborators on the album are well versed in creating their own musical distress signals – co-conspirators include The Necks’ Chris Abrahams and Tony Buck along with long-time Swans acolytes Thor Harris and Norman Westberg.
Indeed, it is within the brief but furious Hammering a Screw where the Swans-like stabs of feral intensity threaten to overwhelm the entire listening process. But natural (dis)order is soon resumed and Cruel Optimism stands tall as a worthy chronicle of hope amid life in grievous times.
Listen to: Hard Rain, Exquisite Human Microphone