‘We bear 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 […]. This record is me yelling into what seems to be an ever-growing black abyss […]’ (Lawrence English)
Wilderness of Mirrors is a phrase from Eliot’s Gerontion, first borrowed to depict the misinformation campaigns of the cold war. It evidently acts as a compositional signifier of a process of recursion at the core of Lawrence English‘s eponymous album, the first since The Peregrine—one of 2011’s igloo tops, reflecting (pun intended!) English’s interest in extreme sonic density. Throughput of inquiries into the aesthetics of digital density is a certain clinical distortion–‘Reflection upon reflection, a pure white out of absolute aurality,’ as English would have it. Nods to Earth, Swans and My Bloody Valentine, ‘…for their use of volume as an affecting quality, […] each of them reinforced my interest in emulating that inner ear and bodily sensation that extreme densities of vibration in air brings about,’ but the Room40 proprietor’s harmonized squalls and corrosive currents recall just as much previous room-mates, Tim Hecker and Ben Frost, even Grouper in more vaporous zones of shadows and fog, as well as his own Kiri No Oto (‘the sound of fog’).
Hauled from simmering liminality to caustic noise in a fizzing dramatization crossing the spectrum from post-shoegaze ambient toward doom metal, its eight uneasy pieces are coaxed out of only a handful of notes, often premised on a single note or chord, summoned from simple structures into tectonic harmonic plates in twisting seismic shifts. Volume and density are on you from the off with “The Liquid Casket” spewing out massive swathes of swarming drones, after which tension is ratcheted up via small changes–from abrupt edits and volume bursts to slow imperceptible shifts, inky whorls and aether wisps morphing one from/into another. A febrile swarming sweeps–from breathless aerial to wind-blown terranean–over its contours and seeps through into fever dreams and dystopian visions. Tumbleweed swirls across the evacuations of “Guillotines and Kingmakers” and spectral wafts through the thrum of “Wrapped in Skin” are minimalist smears at the edges of an otherwise maximalist canvas, spray-painted with a blown-out palette in coruscating highs and chthonic lows. English’s saturation of sound field and tonality eschews murk, making deep incisions, from the resonant inhalations of the title track, like a baritone banshee over industrial hum, to the buffered assaults of “Another Body” and the neo-ritual solemnities of “Hapless Gatherer.”
Striking in its full-blooded viscerality, felt in arteries of overdriven hereness as in veins of eroded and erased elsewhereness, Wilderness of Mirrors hitches ideology to sonics, articulating in (im)pure sound a sense of socio-political flux. English hi-jacks the eponymous notion from the historical politics of nation and drives it to that of a contemporary world in which untrammelled information has all but effaced a proper Zeitgeist.
Wilderness of Mirrors is out now on Room40.