After years of making music mostly on his own, English has invited a long list of collaborators, including Swans guitarist Norman Westberg, percussionist Thor Harris, pianist Chris Abrahams and drummer Tony Buck. The result is an album that feels personal but also universal. Part of that universality comes from English’s patience—the way, for example, he lets tones and timbres endure. Some tracks on Cruel Optimism feel blunt and angry—take the crashing, abrasive blasts in "Hammering A Screw."
But no track on Cruel Optimism can be reduced to just one point of view. English's harsher moments still contain sunlight, and his calmer passages still course with tension. His production is tactile and echo-drenched, making everything both immediate and distant. As the album progresses, eeriness takes over. Tracks such as "Negative Drone" and "Somnambulist" sound ghostly and detached. But, in closing with the majestic reverberations of "Moribund Territories," English suggests there's room for optimism—the pure, uncruel kind—in his music.