Published Nov 19, 2019During the most tender moment on his latest album, Luke Lalonde shares some advice his father has given him throughout his life: "Never hide nothing from anyone / let them out and be done." The frontman for Toronto's Born Ruffians has taken this advice throughout his career with his acclaimed indie rock group, but The Perpetual Optimist sees Lalonde at his most off-the-cuff yet. Confronting climate change with ebullience, this LP is a playful attempt that tackles this crisis in an unprecedented way: with unfiltered observations, both universal and deeply personal.
United by distinctive spring reverb and lo-fi production, Lalonde's second solo effort feels more musically cohesive than 2012's Rhythymnals, but it's still thoroughly eclectic and unpredictable. Lalonde's signature caterwaul is showcased on tracks like the country-rock cut "Two Minutes to Midnight," and the dirt road ballad "Dusty Lime," whose tremolo-drenched guitars and drum rolls are heightened by a tight, dense horn arrangement. "Any Day Now" sounds like a mid-'60s George Harrison song, with synthesizers taking the place of a sitar; one of two short instrumentals on this already concise record, "Ru," sounds like a dusty record dug out of a basement in Hawaii.
The Perpetual Optimist can be interpreted as scattered and unfocused, but it comes across more like frenzied enthusiasm and unwavering conviction. Whether Lalonde is homing in on his experience, "giving the stink eye to every car that goes by" or zooming out to ponder the "tenderness, the violence, the symphony of silence" of all humanity, his songwriting is touching, human. This is epitomized on album closer "Winners & Losers" when Lalonde snarls, "let them play it cool while we sing: 'burn it higher,'" lets out a youthful shout, then lets some lazy guitar slide about, subdued, for a pensive moment.
It's impossible to confront a global issue such as climate change in a single album, but Lalonde attempts to capture a burst of feelings that the topic provokes. By continuing the unselfconscious songwriting most evidently featured on Ruffians' Ruff, he succeeds in making a short, unique commentary. It brings some solace even if it also borders on feeling inconsequential or naïve.
It's Canada's renegade cowboy doing throwback songs about the most pressing issue of our time. It's as quintessentially idiosyncratic as Luke Lalonde gets. (Paper Bag)