Monday, June 1, 2020
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cover
Artist: Lawrence English (@)
Title: Cruel Optimism
Format: LP
Label: Room40
Rated: *****
This new impressive release by Lawrence English immediately barges into listeners' mind through a sort of thud and magnetic lapping on the initial "Hard Rain", rendering a magnetic and somehow urgent sense of pensive tragedy, which manages to push them in the meditative pool, inspiring the whole release. Named after the title of an essay by American theorist Lauren Berlant (it also inspired "Cruel Optimist", a song by Brooklyn-based melodic punk band Worriers, led by songwriter, singer and feminist Lauren Denitzio, but I preferred the sonic language chosen by Lawrence to a part of the content of that essay), the sparkle of the inspiration, enflaming "Cruel Optimism", was a reflection about the (consuming, augmenting and shaping) effects of power on two related aspects of human conditions, obsession and fragility. Unlike the screaming of liberation yelled by the above-mentioned punk band, which was almost concomitant to the publishing of that essay, the more concerned halo mantling the ten tracks of Lawrence's output sound more anchored to the somehow unexpected pronouncement of contemporary human history. The connection between the surrounding meditation behind this album and Berlant's essay got explained by the author as follows: "In Cruel Optimism, I found some critical readings around the issues that have fuelled so much of the music I have been making recently. Beyond her keen analysis of the relations of attachment as they pertain to conditions of possibility in the everyday, it was particularly her writing around trauma I found deeply affecting. It was a jumping off point from which a plague of unsettling impressions of suffering, intolerance and ignorance could be unpacked and utilised as fuel over and above pointless frustration.". Most of the ten flowing movements are drones built on elongated voice-like choirs, intensely fluttering single tones, subtle chimes, muffled thundering hits, reaching the apex on tracks where Lawrence dramatise the previously described sense of tragedy by banging hits such as "Hammering a Screw" or the majestic "Object of Projection". During the listening, your mind could land on some of the contemporary historical events and the subsequent thoughts related to them that partially inspired Lawrence himself - he mainly quoted the new wave of humanitarian and refugee crisis as well as the emblematic photo of that tiny body on the shore by Alan Kurdi, the striking drones in many parts of the planet, the black lives matter movement, the use of sonic weapòons against civilians, Us and Uk recent elections, the serpentine return of racism and sexism -, but "Cruel Optimism" is also "an encouragement to press forward towards more profound futures" in Lawrence's words. Someone could ask if such a kind of "functional" album are really necessary and maybe such a feedback could make sense. Decades ago. Nowadays the situation is so concerning that some ways (or sonic protests, if you prefer to consider in a different way) of escaping from the lobotomizing musical mainstream are somehow necessary.

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