Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room40, 2014)

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I often find it difficult to tackle albums that are inspired or influenced by poems. Largely because I’m fairly poorly read in the poetry department but also because I feel almost like it locks you into a particular interpretation and/or sets you up for a particular expectation even before you’ve started listening. That being said, Lawrence English’s latest full length Wilderness of Mirrors, based on the T.S Eliot poem of  elderly”Gerontion”, is carefully crafted to sound every bit as aged, confused, even embittered, as the writings of its inspiration whilst still remaining away enough from its confines to be an open and expansive release.

English is tired and confused by technology, which is almost ironic since much of the album is ensconced in thick and deep layers of processing that smear the original instrumentation out into dark expanses of frayed noise and drone in near seamless movements. Opener “The Liquid Casket” arrives with heavy and frayed drones bearing down from every which way, muted in their dark subaqueous expression and smothering the senses. Its bleak machinations are assisted by the tinkling of some delicately arpeggiated device in the distant backfield, and before we know it the title track has arrived and is already halfway done. Seamlessly segued in, a luminous beacon cuts through the waning drones of the opener, a lighthouse of hope guiding our way through The Wilderness of Mirrors. This beacon also reappears much later on in the closer “Hapless Gatherer”, except the process appears to occur in reverse there as the deep, miasmic, Thomas Koner drones overtake the pulsing lights and crawl to a pained halt with obliterating shots of processed guitar, unable to fend even for itself.

Despite it being said that the LP was inspired sonically by the likes of MBV and early Swans, Koner, Hecker and even Saaad all seem to be the most sonically comparable artists in some of the pieces here. The enormity of “Another Body” reminds me of Saaad especially through its ethereal combination of delicate radiance and deep-set growling drone lines. It’s actually a lot more peaceful than you’d think, and one of the least chaotic tracks as it disconnects from the corporeal realm to exist as another persona through the internet. Twinned with “Wrapped in Skin” it makes for a potent pairing in the heart of the release, the latter dragging us back to the cold and unforgiving fugue of reality, more stripped back and depressive in its softly shifting reverb, turning to face the endless abyss of life.

The longest piece of the album, “Forgiving Noir”, clocks in at around 8 minutes and is perhaps, to me, the most aimless of all. Perhaps the best part of this album is that everything is accessible and bitesized, conveying everything that needs to be said in condensed verses that don’t drag out longer than necessary, but “Noir” just keeps going in relentless waves of dry and dusty, foreboding motions of bleak, frayed drone, slowly being buried under faster, oscillating electronica across its length. It sounds like something lifted straight out of Tim Hecker’s An Imaginary Country but also seems to lack any of the power or subconscious determination. Luckily, penultimate beauty “Graceless Hunter” proves to be a rather misleadingly titled followup as it weaves out glowing walls and fragmentary sparkles through the spun drone bass, thankful for the simplicities of modernity as it reflects on the historic difficulties of our ancestors.

“Gerotion”‘s influence on the record is of course undeniable, reaffirming English’s own thoughts on the nature of technological encroachment and the confusion of growing up in a world that now seems out of your control or understanding, but it seems like as troublesome as it is, he wouldn’t have it any other way, and even hints at a possible level of admiration for those early peoples who endured far harder existences than we do today as we bemoan our first world problems. I like this record a lot, probably more than I’ve made clear; definitely one to pick up perhaps later in the year so not to ruin your warm summer nights.

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