Lawrence English Credit: traianos pakioufakis

On his bracing new album Cruel Optimism (Room40) veteran Australian sound artist Lawrence English subtly erases boundaries between ambient drift and industrial roar, forging aqueous instrumentals that seem to occupy an entire world. Normally he creates his turbulent recordings entirely on his own, as he did with the 2014’s bruising Wilderness of Mirrors—an appropriate precursor in terms of its visceral chill—but for the first time he’s enlisted a number of guest musicians. Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, keyboardist Chris Abrahams of the Necks, and bassist Werner Dafeldecker each contributed, but in the end they’re so deeply woven into English’s astringent soundscapes they practically become swallowed by them. Designed as a response to an increasingly troubled and unstable world, the album offers nothing soothing: the music floats and billows, but beneath the airiness there’s a slashing violence at work.   v