Lawrence English returns with his first album since 2011’s The Peregrine and would like everyone to know that it is inspired by Swans and My Bloody Valentine, but maybe he was just pissed off when he created most of the album?
What doesn’t get talked about enough in the realm of ambient music is that many artists never venture that far outside their comfort zone. Pick an artist and examine his or her body of work, how different is one release from the next? Perhaps this is a byproduct of the genre itself; as modern ambient music almost defines itself by blurring the lines between one sound and the next to the point where it’s often difficult to discern how one sound was made, where it came from, and where it’s going, many may not find much wiggle room after reaching that first epiphany that drags them into the genre. English has always been an artist that has embraced the experimental aspect of the genre and explored a wide variety of sounds over the course of his career. Several releases focus on found sounds and samples, others live in a world of drones and ambient swashes, still others revert the norm and dive into noise. Then there are the slew of collaborations he’s released, which also cover an array of styles, like pop, minimal electronica, and even more left field experimentations (I believe there has been at least one installation piece as well). Suffice to say, Lawrence English enjoys the mobility of his sound. (New listeners are encouraged to check out the following releases, which are often considered among his best works: For Varying Degrees of Winter, Kiri No Oto, A Colour for Autumn, It’s Up to Us to Live, The Peregrine.)
There is much that can, and will, be said of Wilderness of Mirrors, but it’ll shock me if this isn’t a top album for most critics who cover this field at the year’s end. On Room40’s release page, English comments that this is essentially an album that captures the live show, where the physicality of the music embraces a maximal mindset; as such, playing this record at loud volumes may be the only way to really experience this as the artist intended. Most of the tracks naturally lend themselves to such a set up, and it’s easy to imagine having these sounds reverberate around a live venue.
However, it’s the next comment that really draw my attention:
“We face constant and unsettled change,” English notes, “It’s not merely an issue of the changes taking place around us, but the speed at which these changes are occurring. We bare witness to the retraction of a great many social conditions and contracts that have previously assisted us in being more humane than the generations that precede us. We are seeing this ideal of betterment eroded here in Australia and abroad too. This record is me yelling into what seems to be an ever-growing black abyss. I wonder if my voice will reflect off something?” Wilderness Of Mirrors is reflection upon reflection, a pure white out of absolute aurality.
The manifestation of this viewpoint, this album, is one that strikes me as hitting close to the philosophical base of Stars of the Lid, and also one that is certainly delivered upon here. The main difference is that while Stars of the Lid work in subtle, constant changes fashioned mostly with nice sounding instruments, English’s raison d’etre on Wilderness of Mirrors comes from a much darker place that does not allow such instrumentation. Instead, we’re treated to barrage of harsh sounding noises embedded in other harsh sounding noises that slowly and subtly evolve as if carving out a real narrative of disenchantment and frustration with the degradation of modern man and his environment. I wouldn’t be the first to comment on English’s evolution as a composer over his body of work, but this is really the shining aspect of Wilderness of Mirrors that should be the selling point for progressively-minded individuals.
As he’s never content to stay in one musical area for too long, English will likely soon leave the dark confines of Wilderness of Mirrors for brighter, or more neutral, pastures. Years down the road I believe this will be a piece of work that is remembered as a turning point in Lawrence’s career; hopefully one that thrusts him into the limelight and puts him into consideration and one of the genre’s most important figures — recognition that is long overdue.